Reagan and Schwarzenegger
Lou Cannon, a veteran journalist and Reagan biographer, believes California’s current actor-turned-governor is a much better politician than his predecessor.
Nobody saw this coming, especially not the new governor. Just before his election victory, he happily told Peter Jennings that were he to win, the state’s political establishment would “go crazy.” On his first day in office, he made good on his one solid campaign pledge by repealing an increase in the state’s much-hated car tax.
Yet since then, he has been transformed into a master politician, wheeling and dealing with the Democratic-controlled legislature and pulling off a string of surprising victories. He has also been able to negotiate with many constituencies historically leery of Republicans, including the California Teachers Association, the trustees of the state’s two university systems, and the public employees’ unions.
In comparison, Ronald Reagan was suspicious of legislators after taking office in 1967 and didn’t rush into negotiations. It wasn’t really until his second term, beginning in 1971, that he sat down with Democratic leaders and hammered out notable compromises on welfare reform and other issues.
The gregarious Mr. Schwarzenegger, however, has been cheerfully dealing with the opposition since his first day in office, often over cigars in a tent in a courtyard outside his office. He has even bonded with the crusty, very liberal State Senate leader, John Burton. “Arnold’s a negotiator,” Mr. Burton told me. “He negotiated all these movie deals.” Mr. Burton praised the governor as being far more “engaged” than his predecessor, Gray Davis, a Democrat and career politician.
Interesting. I haven’t followed Schwarzenegger’s tenure in office nearly as closely as the bizarre circumstances that led to his election. While I was no fan of the recall and thought most of the Governator’s campaign was rather vapid, he does seem to have turned himself into an effective politico.
In addition to Reagan, the other obvious comparison is with Jesse Ventura, another musclebound action movie star that won a governorship ahead of him. Ventura did a much better job early on of articulating his political vision. He squandered any opportunity for effectiveness, however, by continually bashing the major party legislators with whom he had to work and, more generally, by not taking the job seriously, treating the governorship as the equivalent of a talk radio show. Schwarzenegger seems to have decided to actually dedicate himself to his latest role.