You wouldn't get that impression by looking at his poll numbers: When the former governor took office in 2003, he had nearly 70 percent approval; upon leaving office, he was below 25 percent (and that was before the mishigas with Maria). Thing of it is, Arnold Schwarzenegger wanted to do all the right things - cut spending, raise taxes (a little), put an end to the gerrymandering of districts, and reform the pension system. The only problem was that Californians simply said no. "I was operating under the commonsense kind of thing," he tells Michael Lewis in a lengthy Vanity Fair piece on California's dysfunctional economy. "It was the voters who recalled Gray Davis. It was the voters who elected me. So it will be the voters who hand me the tools to do the job. But the other side was successful enough for the voters to take the tools away." The other side? I think that would be us.
"When you want to do pension reform for the prison guards," he says, "and all of a sudden the Republicans are all lined up against you. It was really incredible, and it happened over and over: people would say to me, 'Yes, this is the best idea! I would love to vote for it! But if I vote for it some interest group is going to be angry with me, so I won't do it.' I couldn't believe people could actually say that. You have soldiers dying in Iraq and Afghanistan, and they didn't want to risk their political lives by doing the right thing."
David Crane, the former economic adviser--at that moment rapidly receding into the distance--could itemize the result: a long list of depressing government financial statistics. The pensions of state employees ate up twice as much of the budget when Schwarzenegger left office as they had when he arrived, for instance. The officially recognized gap between what the state would owe its workers and what it had on hand to pay them was roughly $105 billion, but that, thanks to accounting gimmicks, was probably only about half the real number. "This year the state will directly spend $32 billion on employee pay and benefits, up 65 percent over the past 10 years," says Crane later. "Compare that to state spending on higher education [down 5 percent], health and human services [up just 5 percent], and parks and recreation [flat], all crowded out in large part by fast-rising employment costs." Crane is a lifelong Democrat with no particular hostility to government. But the more he looked into the details, the more shocking he found them to be.This is a devastating portrait of Californians, but it's not all that different to what's going on elsewhere in the country. And it helps explain why Americans, for all their contempt over what's been happening in Washington, show a resistance to any change that requires sacrifice. We still want it all. Back to Lewis:
What happens when a society loses its ability to self-regulate, and insists on sacrificing its long-term interest for short-term rewards? How does the story end? "We could regulate ourselves if we chose to think about it," [says Dr. Peter Whybrow, a British neuroscientist at UCLA]. "But it does not appear that is what we are going to do."