California shows the way to a bipartisan future.
Thursday, January 11, 2007
Arnold Schwarzenegger waxed boldly optimistic during his State of the State address Tuesday night, painting the future in bright tones and proclaiming the greatness of California and its people. That is in keeping with tradition—all governors seize this annual opportunity to gush. But Schwarzenegger took that tradition to new heights.
“I believe that together, not only can we lead California into the future, we can show the nation and the world how to get there,” he said. “We can do this because we have the economic strength. We have the population and the technological force of a nation-state. We are the modern equivalent of the ancient city states of Athens and Sparta. California has the ideas of Athens and the power of Sparta.”
That’s some big-time bragging, but the governor didn’t stop there. He went on to reel off a list of areas in which California leads the nation. It was a long list. “Our innovation, our science, our knowledge, our creativity,” he concluded, “is unequaled on the face of the earth.”
Having warmed up the audience watching at home on TV, the governor commenced buttering up the lawmakers sitting before him on the floor of the State Assembly.
“Usually when a governor gives his State of the State Address, he talks about his vision,” he said. “This year I want to talk about ‘our’ vision.” He proceeded to describe the top legislative priorities set by Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez, Senate Leader Don Perata, and other (mostly Democratic) lawmakers, and vowed to see them fulfilled. “I will work with you,” he promised.
It may be too much to hope that George Bush might learn something from our governor.
Following his skilled display of bipartisan politicking, Schwarzenegger covered his own ambitious agenda. He announced a new proposal for a huge statewide infrastructure project, and reiterated his call for comprehensive health care reform and a large-scale effort to combat global warming.
The governor wrapped things up by (almost sheepishly) returning to the issue that drove his first campaign—political reform through redistricting—an idea that is less popular in Sacramento than anywhere else in the state. “You will not benefit politically from this,” the governor admitted. “I will not benefit politically. But the people will benefit from this.”
It was impossible for the lawmakers seated in the Assembly to do anything but cheer.
So here is another area in which California seems to be leading the nation. Politicians throughout the country claim to understand that Americans are tired of the partisan animosity that has polarized and paralyzed governmental bodies everywhere. But as this week’s cover story shows, lawmakers in Washington have gotten off to a rocky start in their efforts to work across the aisle. Here the bipartisan era may already have arrived.
More evidence of that hopeful fact arrived last week in an e-mail from our own Assemblyman John Laird, following a forum in which Schwarzenegger announced his health care plan.
“The governor’s proposal…is a prime example of the kind of ‘post-partisan’ attitude he spoke of in his inaugural speech,” Laird wrote. “His proposal is far-sighted and mirrors what Democrats proposed in last year’s budget.”
Frankly, Laird and his Democratic colleagues could have taken issue with the governor’s proposal. They might have chosen instead to fight for the single-payer plan that they have been pushing unsuccessfully for years. Because they are choosing to compromise, it is likely that we will see health care reform in the next 12 months.
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It was just over a year ago that Arnold Schwarzenegger decided to abandon the combative attitude that marked much of his first term. His decision to reverse course followed the defeat of a slate of initiatives that he championed in November 1995.
It may be too much to hope that George Bush, having recently suffered a similar defeat, might learn something from our governor. Or it may be that in some measure he has. The president’s firing of Donald Rumsfeld the day after the election, and his recent replacement of top brass in Iraq, resemble the housecleaning Schwarzenegger initiated last year.
Bush last week appointed Lt. Gen. David Petraeus to take over command in Iraq. The one military leader most admired by the war’s harshest critics, Petraeus is likely to steer US strategy in a profoundly new direction. As this goes to press, Bush is set to officially announce his new plan for Iraq. And already, Democratic leaders are vowing to fight him on it. Their motives may not be entirely political, but there seems to be a whiff of partisanship in the air.
It may be too much to hope that the new Congress and the president will work together to solve the most pressing problem our nation faces. But if they could quit their fighting, the world would stand a better chance of seeing peace.
For that to happen, our president would have to show the kind of leadership skills our governor demonstrated again this week.