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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

California’s Lesson to the Rest of Us

I didn’t support Arnold for Governator when he first ran mostly for two reasons: first, I felt that his accusers were credible enough that I believed he had acted in hugely inappropriate ways towards women during his career in Hollywood (not a stretch for nearly any self-obsessed movie star), and, second, that I didn’t believe that he would act as a strong conservative. Of course, I’ll never be able to prove the first, but the second seemed to be accurate.

Yes, I praised the man during the 2004 election cycle, mostly for his speeches at the RNC. He deserved that praise: he was eloquent in a way that Bush rarely is, which is funny considering the years of jokes about Schwarzenegger’s accent. Apparently, my first instincts were more trustworthy than that second glance.

Here’s one of the first things that I wrote about him back in ‘04:

Yes, he would be more conservative in a few areas (immigration, for instance), but would there really be a large difference in the most important California issue (the economy)? I don’t think so.

Of course, like Wesley Clark, it’s hard to pin Arnold down on policy since he doesn’t have a well-defined stand on many issues or a track record to judge. Star power only gets you so far. Sooner or later, you have to have strong will, vision, and policies to be elected and be successful.

Now comes this story from American Spectator about Arnold’s apology for his earlier, somewhat conservative campaign.

SCHWARZENEGGER said many of the right things during the recall campaign to unseat and replace Davis, for which he is now apologizing. He called many state legislators “inept”; he railed against the “waste, fraud, and abuse” that swelled California’s state budget and ballooned its deficit; and he called for repairing the Golden State’s failing education system without spending ever more taxpayer money.

He promised to eliminate dozens of useless state boards and commissions and cut the funding of state programs and entitlements that had become “bloated and inefficient.” “Never again,” he promised, would the state of California face a $14 billion deficit, because he would not let the taxpayers’ money be handled so irresponsibly.

That was four years ago. Now, facing a $14 billion annual budget deficit for which he is responsible, and with more bills coming due in the next few years than Sacramento will have incoming checks with which to pay them, Governor Schwarzenegger—in a moment of sober honesty—recanted the principles on which he ran and for which the citizens of California elected him in the first place.
{...]
The Schwarzenegger California’s voters thought they were getting would not have continued to push a $14 billion “universal health care” bill—built on tax increases and an assessment of crippling financial penalties on businesses large and small—through the state legislature and onto the November ballot when the budget deficit being faced by his state was of an equally obscene amount.

And the Schwarzenegger California’s voters thought they were getting would not have called a meeting with the editorial and reportorial staff of the Los Angeles Times for the purpose of apologizing for his misguided adherence—however fleeting and ineffective—to even semi-conservative principles.

It had seemed for some time that the man currently serving as Governor of California was not the man the citizens of the Golden State once thought they were putting into office. His actions during the last several months of his term should have made that clear enough.

I’ve snipped huge chunks because, frankly, this post will already be too long. So, please, do go and read the rest.

The short story, though, is very simple: conservative California voters who were voting for change got ripped off. The Arnold they hoped for wasn’t the Arnold they got and now they are in, very nearly, the same situation they were in when Davis was recalled.

That ties into why I’ve supported Fred Thompson, too: I trust him to behave in a responsible, adult, conservative manner in office. When faced with financial difficulties, I trust that he will be the first guy in a long time to say, “We need to trim our expenses instead of finding new ways to add to the debt.” Aside from Ron Paul--and the possibility of him earning my vote is slender, indeed--how many of the others come across as honestly economically conservative? Huckabee, with his love of nanny-state projects? Romney with his health care mandates? Perhaps Giuliani and, on a good day, McCain could strike a conservative chord. On the left, of course, you’ll only find various shades of terrifying new mandates and projects to suck the money right from your wallet.

The same goes for entitlement reform: only a handful of the candidates express any serious interest in tackling the issues facing Social Security and Medicare, for instance, with all of the others rushing toward solutions that would remove gobs of money from the private sphere and shuffle it right into one or another form of welfare (and, yes, that’s precisely what Social Security is) without tackling the underlying problems of the structure that the programs are built upon.

I get going for the best of the bad, but California under a Republican who is very nearly a Democrat has to act as a cautionary tale to the rest of us. He ran on change, but offered more of the same. He had an economically conservative message, but piled new debt on old. California needed a big change, but it got a big con.

Republicans--and America--need to see a true economic conservative in office. We need to hold feet to the fire and force a change in economic expectations. Of course, the likelihood of that is slender when it comes to asking people to actually give up pet projects.

The contemporary wisdom seems to say that you can’t ask Americans to sacrifice because Americans won’t accept negative messages from their leadership. That’s only half true: Americans won’t accept unrelenting negativism from their leaders, it’s true. But I believe that Americans, faced with a cogent argument, will accept that it’s only through a little bit of sacrifice that we might face ultimate economic renewal in this country.

Universal health care, big stacks of cash in aid to the rest of the world, a speedy switch to alternative forms of energy, free pre-school and college for everyone are all just so much useless talk if we let the economy crash under the weight of irresponsible policies. Anyone who promises to fix the economy by adding even more to our future obligations, and subsequently funding it by taking money out of the pockets of the people who create the jobs, is selling the Free Money Fairy theory of economic recovery: if we believe hard enough, then everything will be just fine.

Arnold-like leadership, on a national level, would be disastrous.

Unfortunately, South Carolina’s soft showing for Thompson probably put an end to his presidential run, which is a damned shame. While he is more socially conservative than I am, I came to believe that his fiscal and foreign policy would be strong and reliably conservative in nature--more so than Bush has been and distinctly more than Romney, McCain, Huckabee, and Giuliani would be. My loss.

Soon, Republicans will be choosing the leader that will take them into a fight against the economically irresponsible policies of Clinton or Obama (What? You really believe that right now is the time to saddle our economy with a meteoric jump in tax rates and expanded social programs when we can’t even find long-term funding for our current obligations?). Simply finding a way for the GOP to win isn’t enough; finding a way to win with a principled leader is what we need. California chose Arnold on big talk and personality instead of on a history of principled action. That should be warning enough for the rest of us.

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