As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Monday, June 18, 2007

Government By Magazine Cover

This is at least the seventh or eighth cover story (and I'm not even counting the muscle mags) on the supposed "moderate centrism" of Arnold Schwarzenegger, which is apparently something to be deified. Now it's of course true that this "centrism" is broadly defined as implementing the wishes of Democrats and the overwhelming majority of Americans without the help of Republican votes at all, while still calling yourself a Republican, setting you apart from those dirty fucking hippie Democrats. I can give you a wide range of Democrats at the state level implementing the same kinds of policies (Eliot Spitzer, Brian Schweitzer, Martin O'Malley, Bill Richardson, John Lynch), but they're mean Democrats and not very serious Republicans so they don't count and get magazine covers. But there's something more here.

What exactly has Arnold Schwarzenegger done in 2007 to deserve this hero worship? Sure, the vagaries of the California Legislature ensures that he won't have many bills to sign until September. But here's the 2007 record:

In the past several months, the governor has:

• added 53,000 beds to our prisons, to the extent that the state government is paying more to incarcerate people than it does on higher education...

• refused to do anything about sentencing guidelines which have put us into such a mess that we have these overstuffed prisons in the first place and the nation's highest recidivism rate (he's also refused to fund a voter-approved drug treatment program that would alleviate this)...

• eliminated $1.3 billion in public transit funds so he won't have to raise taxes to balance the budget, preferring to continue to put bond issues on the state credit card to keep the budget artificially solvent until he gets to leave and it all crashes down for the next governor...

• tried to cut funding for the poor and the elderly in his mean-spirited budget proposal, and is deliberately fudging the numbers to make the state budget look better than it is...

• vowed to privatize the lottery to get a short-term cash infusion, again risking long-term loss of revenue...

• formulated a health care plan that's so completely ridiculous and unworkable that nobody, Democrat or Republican, will carry it into the Legislature...

• appointed every lackey he knows to state oversight boards, including his personal dentist and personal chiropractor, even though they have no experience in the boards on which they now sit...

This is conveniently ignored by all of these magazine cover stories, which focus on those "big issues" that the Schwarzenegger team pushes with all the might of his PR machine. But unlike the environment and stem cell research, economic issues are never uttered by those praising Arnold's "centrism." That's because he's far to the right on all of those issues.

"I was sent to Sacramento to protect businesses, and that's why the first thing I did when I came into office was, we reformed workers' compensation," Schwarzenegger said in Chico the other day, adding, "We went in there and we reformed the system, but a radical reform. And now, as I have said, we are putting $14 billion back into the economy because we reduced the workers' comp costs by 50 percent, and like I said, another 16 percent is coming."

Before the governor spoke, Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner recommended another 14 percent cut in premiums charged by workers' comp insurers -- substantially more than the Workers' Compensation Insurance Rating Bureau had recommended. As Schwarzenegger said, employers' overhead for workers' comp has been reduced by at least $14 billion a year, even as their insurers' profits have soared [...]

The coalition seeking a rollback has distributed what it calls "horror stories" about disabled workers to bolster its case, but so far has been unable to generate much public or media interest -- or even much traction for legislative change.

Had Democrat Phil Angelides ousted Schwarzenegger in last year's election, one of his first acts would have been to roll back the much-disputed regulations. But with Schwarzenegger re-elected in a landslide, the coalition's hopes now rest on administration studies being conducted on the effects of the reforms. So far, they have confirmed critics' complaints about sharp reductions in disability ratings and compensation levels. But whether they will lead to change is problematic.

When he vetoed a workers' comp benefit increase last year, Schwarzenegger said he is "committed to making any changes necessary to ensure that injured workers unfairly impacted by workers' comp reform receive appropriate medical treatment and indemnity benefits." But every time he makes a speech crowing about the multibillion-dollar savings to employers, he becomes more wedded to the status quo.

"I was sent to Sacramento to protect business," first of all, should be on the lips of every Democratic legislator in the state. This is what Schwarzenegger is all about. This is his core constituency. And he will protect it against those unfortunates who get injured on the job and are seeing their protections diminished severely and unjustly. That's because we have a national media that's more concerned about painting images of "the moderate action hero compromiser" instead of telling the truth about the cruelty of his economic positions.

I'm not surprised that the national media can be so easily bamboozled by Schwarzenegger's purported centrism; heck, even national bloggers have been fooled. What does surprise me, and sadden me, is that the Democratic leadership in this state has decided not to push back against this now-ingrained narrative. There's an opening so wide you can drive one of Arnold's Hummers through it. The Governor seems to understand that progressive ideas are popular, and has no problem cherry-picking some of them. But his economic ideas are wildly unpopular, and we need some good old-fashioned populism to put the lie to this government-by-magazine-cover nonsense.

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