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11/12/03 10:14 PM
Copyright 2003 David C. Loebig

Arnold May Do Good for the Nation

Arnold Schwarzenegger is scheduled to take office this week as California Governor, thus ending a national media frenzy (perhaps beginning another). In some ways the media gave the whole fiasco too much national attention because the issues of the recall are mostly about California. In substance, that is true. In symbolic ways, though, California is a reflection of the rest of the country, and Schwarzenegger represents an opportunity to show that a middle-of-the-road outsider can succeed as an elected official.

Some might not like how he got elected. Despite the spin, it wasn’t a grassroots upwelling but a financed campaign for a recall. And Schwarzenegger won on his celebrity alone. He very well may prove himself and win on merit in another election, but this time around he won on his fame.

It would be better if more clearly qualified outsiders could get into office, but for now, we’ll have to take what’s given. Schwarzenegger starts as an outsider and a moderate. He now has the chance and challenge to prove himself.

Yet to be seen is how much Schwarzenegger succumbs to the government-bureaucracy-political-party machine. It’s a powerful force that even the Terminator won’t resist entirely. He’ll have to play the game to one degree or another. But if he maintains some independence in thought and practice, he stands a chance of making strides for the political outsiders and the moderates.

I don’t hold much hope for his solving California’s problems and succeeding in politics. He may do one but probably not both. In fact, I wouldn’t hold much hope for anybody in his position. He faces a combination of three roadblocks, the same kind of roadblocks other governors face.

First, to overcome the massive California debt he has to make unpopular decisions. He’ll have to cut lower priority services like government support for the arts as well as drug enforcement, and he’ll have to release convicts early. He’ll have to cut funding for education, children’s services and healthcare. All these services and the people they reach will suffer for it. And he’ll have to raise taxes. If you’re riled up over any of this, you prove my point. He faces very unpopular decisions.

His second roadblock consists of the pundits, politicians and activists on all sides of the issues who take to the airwaves for their agendas. Look at the list again--less money for education, law enforcement and nearly every government service, and more taxes. If he makes the tough cuts that are needed, all sides will be against him. Any group with an agenda will seek media attention when its agenda isn’t supported.

The third roadblock is the media that broadcast these polar viewpoints, often to the exclusion of a balanced, inclusive viewpoint. Television news analysis frequently consists of interviewing a representative for a given cause. Out of fairness, a representative of another view is also presented, but it’s usually someone espousing a diametric, polar position on the issue. So vocal opponents of Schwarzenegger’s policies stand a greater chance of getting their polarized viewpoints on the air.

We, the people, are responsible for the influence this has on our political system. We often respond by electing those who embrace a dichotomous party line and speak in happy sound bites. We even elect those who avoid the issues altogether by pandering to the masses with...how can I say it nicely...bovine stuff.

Generally, we don’t elect those who speak with a balanced approach to the issues. We certainly don’t elect those who say they’ll cut services and raise taxes, the very thing that’s needed in California and probably elsewhere.

So I say to Mr. Schwarzenegger (I assume he reads this paper.), I wish you well. Please keep your open, middle-of-the-road approach. If you can solve some of California’s problems and prove yourself a worthy leader, you’ll make inroads for other outsiders and other centrist politicians around the nation. It will be a small step toward reigning in position politics for the whole country.

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Dave Loebig writes and banters out of the Tampa, Fla. Area. You can banter with him at RandomDigressions.com.

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