The dissolving of Unity08
(what am I going to do with all my political capital points
now?) and folding it into a Draft Bloomberg movement is just so revealing. The idea was to have this supposedly inclusive "online convention" to draft a serious alternative to the two parties. Instead, it's a conduit for hero worship toward a billionaire who's looking to buy the White House. I guess the people weren't deciding the right way so their betters had to do the deciding for them. Some grassroots movement.
Now that the speculation has heightened
on a Bloomberg candidacy, with even some backlash
, it's worth taking a look at how a politics based on nothing but calls to "get along" would work in practice. All of us in California have a unique perspective on this question.
If Arnold Schwarzenegger were named Arnold Schwartz, and if he were born in Austin and not Austria, he would almost certainly be the vessel of the hopes of the Unity08 crowd, not Bloomberg. In truth, Schwarzenegger is a con man, which is what you'd expect from an actor playing at executive. Since coming into office, he has played with a variety of images - reformer, hardcore Republican, environmental advocate - before settling on the label of "post-partisan". These are just labels, because his core ideological concerns have not changed a bit, with policies friendly to big business, concerned with redistributing wealth upwards, and punishing the middle and lower classes.
The first thing Schwarzenegger did in office was eliminate an increase in the vehicle license fee, depriving government of $8 billion dollars in revenues. Then he sought to solve every problem under the sun through massive amounts of borrowing, combined with a philosophical opposition to any tax increases. This constrained any solutions to move the state forward to a narrow band. Then he cut worker's compensation benefits
to benefit his corporate buddies. All the while he spent and spent and tried to be all things to all people, in the interest of being liked. An example
(Not that I'm a fan of the heartless Tom McClintock, but the quote is so instructive).
McClintock showed the governor a chart he had drawn. It illustrated that spending under Davis had increased an average of 7% a year. Under Schwarzenegger, it was climbing at a 10% rate. Similarly, he pointed out, the deficit -- the billions being spent over the revenue coming in -- was larger than under Davis.
According to McClintock, the governor replied: "That is bad news that people don't want to hear. People want to hear only good news. I don't want to hear pessimism. I'm an optimist."
This year, the inequities in California's budget structure were made clear. The housing debacle and major increases in unemployment shrunk revenues and created a $14 billion dollar deficit. Not only that, but state employee retiree health care was majorly unfunded
, and the prisons were the worst in the country, overcrowded and mismanaged to the extent that federal judges were about to mandate releases.
Faced with the consequences of his own policies of borrowing and putting off reality to our children and grandchildren, Schwarzenegger declared a "fiscal emergency," and is using the shock doctrine
principle by taking advantage of the crisis to radically alter the power of the executive in state government. He put together a budget
that only deals with the problem from the spending side. He plans to cut education, release 50,000 prisoners, slash services for the elderly and the blind, lay off prison guards, close 48 state parks (that's the California dream, isn't it?), and reduce health care for the needy (more on that later). Loopholes for corporations and people who buy yachts don't come under the budget knife.
Schwarzenegger is trying to suspend Prop. 98, which mandates a certain level of education funding, and he seeks a constitutional cap on spending
where mid-year cuts would be at the complete discretion of the executive. This is something that Arnold tried to push through the Legislature in 2004, to no avail. He tried a ballot measure in 2005; it was rejected. Faced with a crisis, he's gone to the same failed solution, and is holding the budget hostage to it.
The "post-partisan" label that Schwarzenegger has taken up has enabled him to just use the language of both sides of the political aisle while rigidly holding to conservative "drown the government in the bathtub" policy. So he sounds schizophrenic
to those who don't scratch the surface.
If Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger wanted to further his reputation as a dabbler who has political Velcro glued to his fingers, he succeeded with elements of his State of the State speech yesterday.
One minute this Republican governor was praising the public works programs of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The next he was calling for more partnerships with private industry to build public infrastructure – the seeming antithesis of the New Deal.
One minute he was acknowledging the harsh consequences of spending cuts that involve "not just dollars, but people." The next he was calling for across-the-board spending cuts and refusing to raise taxes.
Because he's supposed to be some kind of post-partisan, state political insiders have convinced themselves
into believing that this is an elaborate ruse, that Schwarzenegger is just calling for outlandish cuts without taxes to get a broader compromise (Odd way of forcing compromise, by proposing something entirely on one side of the equation). They're so convinced that he's some kind of coalition builder and compromiser that they don't listen when he says he won't raise taxes (actually, he'll just call taxes fees
and make sure they're applied regressively, if at all). It's entirely based on the image of the Governor and not the reality.
Meanwhile, as if it's happening in a different sphere, the Governor is pushing ahead with health care reform
while cutting the public programs set to expand under that reform. The health care plan is predicated on an individual mandate, subsidies so everyone can afford coverage, and a massive expansion of public programs. Without the public programs it's just a forced market. And yet this is what he's cutting
in the current budget. This is a familiar pattern for the governor. Earlier this year he used the line-item veto to terminate treatment for mentally ill homeless people (now that's post-partisan!) because he claimed a ballot measure that was supposed to add money
to the program provided full funding for that treatment. It's a dodge and a lie, yet the same people who want to work with this guy because he's so beyond partisanship continue to fall for it.
I go into so much detail on this because it's a model for how progressive policy would suffer, necessarily, under "post-partisan" executive leadership. Envisioning a government of national unity where everyone puts aside differences neglects the inconvenient fact that politicians have substantive differences
, including those who claim to be above politics
. Mayor Bloomberg, himself faced with a significant budget deficit
, responded to the crisis by saying “The first thing we’re going to do for the city is try to reduce spending.”
He has his own ideological rigidities, too, especially in foreign policy
, where he shows little difference from George Bush. "Let's everybody get along" is a transparent way to not say "Let's everyone do what I say" when that's the actual meaning. Corporatist warmongers don't get to say who should start or stop the bickering. They have to put their ideas in front of the public and allow them to be accepted or rejected. The cult around Bloomberg mirrors the starstruck media cult around Schwarzenegger. Failing to scrutinize what this call for "bipartisanship" is a cover for will put the country in the same dire straits as California is in right now.
Labels: Arnold Schwarzenegger, bipartisanship, budget, California, health care, Michael Bloomberg, taxes, Unity 08