'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The Schwarzenegger Syndrome 

There is a special election today in California, and it is very important. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger supports a number of measures on the ballot, and it is essential to defeat them in order to maintain representative democracy here.

Three of these initiatives are especially significant. Proposition 76 grants the governor the power to declare fiscal emergencies in order to make unilaterial spending cuts that would be almost impossible for the legislature to overturn. Fiscal emergencies have been so generously defined that a governor would be able to declare one at some point during every fiscal year, regardless of whether revenues were in balance, or even possibly in excess of expenditures. Proposition 77 is a redistricting initiative designed to provide for new, mid-decade, boundaries drawn by the judiciary, with the expectation, like Texas, of increasing Republican representation. Proposition 75 would require public sector labor unions to obtain the consent of their members before utilizing their dues for political purposes.

Schwarzenegger also strongly supports two other initiatives, and while they are more tangentially associated with his ambitious scheme, they should be rejected as well. Proposition 74, a measure designed to make it more difficult for teachers to obtain tenure, scapegoats teachers to divert public attention from the fact that Schwarzenegger has, despite promises to the contrary, cut funding for public education and plans to continue to do so in the future. Proposition 73 requires minors to get consent from the parents, and go through a 48 hour waiting period, before having an abortion. By additionally defeating these measures, we send a strong, unequivocal message, a message that cannot be misrepresented by the media, that California has repudiated the Schwarzenegger program.

The importance of doing so cannot be overstated. Evaluated separately, Propositions 75, 76 and 77 may appear innocuous, but, taken together, a more calculated agenda becomes apparent. If passed by the voters, these measures would result in the creation of a strong executive at the expense of the legislature, a prime objective of the corporate interests that find many of California's progressive policies so objectionable. They are designed to constitutionally enshrine conservative Republican social values in a state that would otherwise reject them.

To understand why, it is necessary to properly comprehend the Schwarzenegger phenomenon. Schwarzenegger is not a clown, all appearances to the contrary, but, rather, a manifestation of a sophisticated model by which the economic elite intends to transform the state's political system into one in which the legislature, and indeed, even the executive, constitutes little more than the appearance of political participation. The contours of such a system, at least as envisioned by Schwarzenegger and his aides, is revealed by their conduct since taking control of governorship in 2003.

Schwarzenegger spends little time in the governor's office in Sacramento. Instead, he travels around the state, and, indeed, the country, doing two things: (1) raising money at fundraisers, events that commonly cost as much as $10,000 to $25,000 to attend; and (2) promoting his alleged "reform" agenda through cheesy public relations stunts. Rarely does he seek to work with the legislature, the public or any interest groups, other than those who contribute enormous sums of money, to develop policy initiatives. Executive branch administrative decisions are often made to benefit campaign contributors.

It is tempting to gloss over such practices as business as usual, because none of them, standing alone, is innovative. Succumbing to such a temptation is, however, a grave political error. Schwarzenegger has combined these practices because the people who support him have concluded that the problem in California is, in fact, representative democracy.

Schwarzenegger does not work with the legislature or any groups that oppose him, such as teachers, nursers, firefighters and labor unions generally, because he wants to disempower them, as he has frequently admitted. Amazingly, few, beyond the left, have commented that his actions are entirely consistent with his history of making public statements in support of autocratic rule. He is therefore far more valuable to his contributors for his ability to induce people to perceive politics and governance as spectacle than he is for his administrative skills, which are non-existent.

Schwarzenegger therefore spends most of his time outside of Sacramento, often fundraising, because he recognizes that he can only achieve his objective through the initiative process. Qualifying initiatives for the ballot, and paying for advertising campaigns to try to persuade the public to vote for them, is very expensive, amounting to over $100 million dollars when it involves multiple measures. Given that California is a culturally diverse, progressive state, it is critical to put these measures on the ballot during a special election, when turnout is low, to have any chance of getting them passed, as Schwarzenegger has done.

If passed, Propositions 75, 76 and 77 would grant Schwarzenegger unfettered authority over the state budget as the state is redistricted mid-term in an attempt to permanently obtain more Republican representation to exploit the reduced ability of public sector labor unions to confront them. The legislature would exist primarily to create the appearance of democratic participation, when, in reality, the election of the governor would dictate the outcome of all important policy questions. In a state where political campaigns are incomprehensibly expensive, a financing system even more skewed towards the participation of wealthy corporate donors would give conservative candidates, at least ones who avoid being blemished by unseemly association with Christian fundamentalists, a substantial advantage in any statewide gubernatorial campaign. Concentrating such power in the governor would also result in a diminishment, if not the elimination, of the meaningful participation of women, poor people and people of color, in state politics. Schwarzenegger campaign mailings devoid of any photographs of people of color are, perhaps, indicative of the future that his operatives anticipate if successful.

Schwarzenegger, the immigrant, is merely seeking to implement what has already found favor in much of the rest of the world: a system that we can most accurately describe as illusory democracy. Russia (thorugh Yeltsin and Putin), Britain (through Blair and his fusion of Presidential authority with the parliamentary system) and even the American arch nemesis, France (through its strong President and administrative apparatus), have already implemented troubling aspects of this system, and, to drive the point home, we need only note in passing the evisceration of democracy in lesser developed countries around the world through loan conditions and structural adjustment plans imposed by the IMF and the World Bank. There is, however, a critical difference. Unlike powerful leaders like Blair and Putin, Schwarzenegger, and possibly, future governors generated by his proposed system, aren't supposed to actually independently govern, but merely act as public relations officers for the policies of the donors who financed their election.

Fortunately, it seems that the California electorate has recognized the seriousness of the threat. Propositions 75, 76 and 77, the core of the Schwarzenegger model, are all behind in the polls, although Proposition 75 is losing narrowly. Ironically, his best opportunity for a win is probably Proposition 73, although Proposition 74 is also too close to call. Socially nonsensical, as it would place many minors at risk for physical violence and abuse in dysfunctional families, Proposition 73 is, regrettably, sufficiently superficially appealing to have a chance to pass. Such an unfortunate result would at least reveal an irrefutable bond between Schwarzenegger and Christian fundamentalists. Hopefully, there will be no need to search for such silver linings after the results are announced.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?