Nobody Owns Arnold, And That’s a Good Thing

Don’t you hate my profession? Arnold Schwarzenegger announces that he will run for governor in the California recall election, and the journalists of America unleash bad dialect writing and puns on the verb “to terminate.” The sin is double: thinking of something so stupid in the first place, then repeating it endlessly. A similar affront occurs when we all write of “Dr. Dean.” I know Howard Dean is an M.D., but so what? He’s running for President of the United States, not president of the A.M.A. If he wins, is he going to give us all EKG’s? Harping on this irrelevant distinction recalls the behavior of insecure, low-status people-college professors, clergymen-constantly parading their degrees.

Back to Arnold Schwarzenegger: Anyone who saw Pumping Iron learned that Mr. Schwarzenegger is crafty and cold. For craft, recall the scene where he explains how he told a foreign bodybuilder that the latest thing in American shows was to scream continuously while posing, raising the pitch when you raised your arms, lowering it when you lowered them. The credulous fellow does this on stage; the judges think he’s psychotic. Mr. Schwarzenegger performed a similar trick on Senator Dianne Feinstein, the most popular Democrat in the state, encouraging her by his dithering to think that he would not run, thus prompting her not to run herself-after which he announced his candidacy to Jay Leno. What is the name for the maneuver: head fake? Bait-and-switch? Whatever it is, Mr. Schwarzenegger executed one.

For coldness, recall the moment in the movie when he explains that he couldn’t attend his father’s funeral because he dared not interrupt his regimen. Simple as that! This, from a native of the land that gave us psychoanalysis (maybe that’s one reason Mr. Schwarzenegger left). But however low he scores in the area of self-knowledge, give the man his due: He will do whatever it takes to achieve his goal.

To these qualities, add resilience. Mr. Schwarzenegger successfully turned his body-building career into a movie career, and kept the latter going despite a midlife string of turkeys. Being an action star who is eligible for the AARP is no simple trick. He is clearly more competent and more resourceful than the average politician, and if we believe that capable outsiders can make lateral entry into the subsidiary levels of politics, then he is clearly a credible candidate.

What does he believe? Surely he believes in his own rags-to-riches life story-that Old Europe was the land of no opportunity, and that America is the place to pursue riches and happiness. Someone who has harvested such a generous crop of golden eggs is unlikely to kill the goose of capitalism that laid them. Hence Mr. Schwarzenegger’s attendance at functions sponsored by Reason magazine, and his hobnobbing with Milton Friedman. But in government, the devil is in the details. Warren Buffett is far wealthier even than Mr. Schwarzenegger, yet he is a supporter of high taxes. So whom does Mr. Schwarzenegger ask to advise him on how best to relieve the financially pressed voters of his state but Mr. Buffett?

A useful comparison is Rudy Giuliani, another novice politician (though not a novice public servant) when he first began running for Mayor of New York. In some respects, Mr. Giuliani was harder to pin down than Mr. Schwarzenegger. He was a Republican of convenience, having switched parties to hold jobs in the Reagan-era Justice Department. Many of his views sat ill with his new party, in that he supported abortion and gay rights at a time when the national G.O.P. had tilted to the right on these issues.

Yet Mr. Giuliani had two clear advantages over his Austrian pseudo-doppelgänger. It was clear, both from his temperament and from his record as a prosecutor, that he believed in take-no-prisoners law enforcement, whether the putative wrong-doers were railroaded Wall Street traders or genuinely crooked Democratic machine hacks. Mr. Giuliani’s happiest event was the perp walk; his favorite place was the big house; and he wanted to do the one and get to the other as fast as possible. This was a valuable quality in a New York politician in the late 1980’s-essential after the behavioral sink of the Dinkins administration. New Yorkers feared for life and limb, and we were ready for a firm hand.

But Mr. Giuliani did more than throw cops at the problem. He heeded intellectuals like James Q. Wilson, and the imaginative police officers like Bill Bratton, John Timoney and Jack Maple, whom he promoted. Mr. Giuliani and his police force fought crime in a new way: By taking care of the small crimes, the big criminals rolled into their laps.

California has its own different needs now; what quality of Mr. Schwarzenegger is designed to address them? What thinking has he expended on California’s problems to make sure he addresses them in the most creative way?

But maybe it’s enough in California simply to throw a bomb. Things are that bad. When the revenues of the high-tech boom were flowing into the treasury, the state spent it all, in large part on salaries and benefits for public-employee union members that would make a Saudi princeling covetous. When the boom collapsed, the spree continued. Meanwhile, the reconquista of illegal immigration proceeds apace. When Vicente Fox became president of Mexico, he promised to reform his country’s corrupt and sclerotic ways. His major plan of action so far seems to be to move his problem cases north. California is his welfare reform.

The primary, if not the only, enabler of these pathologies is the incumbent governor, Gray Davis. He is a lifelong hack raised in the get-along, go-along culture of Sacramento. Curiously, he came into office as a centrist, or Clintonian Democrat, offering himself as tough on crime. He may be tough on thieves who break into empty homes wearing masks. But thieves who take the state’s pay have been his longtime beneficiaries. Now, as the recall movement has taken hold, Mr. Davis has reached out to the Hispanic vote, pledging to sign a bill that would allow illegal immigrants to get drivers’ licenses. Which is worse: Mr. Gray’s pandering, or the assumption that American citizens of Mexican origin would look favorably on favors to lawbreakers who happened to share their language and their cheekbones?

Mr. Schwarzenegger is not (yet) beholden to any public-employee union, and though he is an immigrant, he obeyed the laws of the country whose citizenship he wished to assume. Maybe he will address these questions with skill, or even minimal common sense. He could hardly do worse.