Tuesday, February 26, 2008

"So how's Arnold doing?"

A friend writes, "It's been some time since Arnold S. became the governator of California. How's he doing? Is he any good or is he just a novelty?"

He's doing 'good.' Meaning he's managed to remain politically effective.

He started out charging hard after a bunch of things that are really, really good ideas, and would have transformed the California political landscape and done the state more good than any governor since Hiram Johnson a hundred years ago -- but his political and ideological rivals managed to block that effort so effectively that he lost all his public approval over the course of the first year.

He made an improbable comeback by scaling his ambitions for reform way, way down (to my utter disappointment) but finding a nifty trick for getting at least some reform-like items thru the legislature: He spent a lot of time & trouble forming "alliances" with the Democrats whom he had been publically scorning. He figured out, and pointed out to them, that their pushback on his reforms, while effective, were causing the legislatures' public image to take a big dive too -- a do-nothing legislature, good only at blocking action but not offering any reforms or results themselves. So he made sort of a deal: They would come up with fixes for variouis problems together, and he would praise the Democrats as Democrats in public, in such a way that it wouldn't be just Arnold's legislative victory, but one of the Democratic legislators too.

They bought it; he delivered; they signed a bunch of fairly decent middle-of-the-road legislation; and the blush is still not off the rose a year later. In fact, it's worked so well he's made friends with Bloomberg, who is trying the same trick in New York. And now they are talkign about the post-partisan era of governorships - a new period of getting things done instead of just using their offices for partisan battling.

It would be nice to think that will really last, but partisanship is a powerful force. It has, at least, resulted in at least one article I saw in passing that talked about how much the Founders *hated* partisanship, which they termed "factionalism," because it puts party above country; they blamed it for all England's ills of the day. Their descriptions of the horrors of factionalism sound exactly like the ills of partisanship today, so I think they were on to something.

So that's the news from California as best I can describe it without getting into my libertarian take on it all.


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