Yes on Arnold, no on 49

Debra J. Saunders

10/21/2002 12:00:00 AM - Debra J. Saunders
"I hope all of you tomorrow will pump up," Arnold Schwarzenegger deadpanned as he touted his after-school programs initiative, Proposition 49, to a San Francisco Commonwealth Club audience. The crowd ate up his every word. Before he spoke, politicos stood in small groups doing Ah-nold imitations. "I'll be back." "Hasta la vista, baby." And from the old Hans & Franz Saturday Night Live skit, "Let's pump you up." Be afraid, California Democratic Party. Be very afraid. The Austrian-born Republican has his eye on the governor's office in 2006 -- if Gray Davis is re-elected. If there's a GOP governor -- hey, it's possible -- there's always Barbara Boxer's Senate seat in 2004. The Terminator is not just a natural pol, he's also smart, methodical and patient. He's doing everything the savvy neophyte should do. He could write a primer on first-time candidates running for top-ticket seats. Consider Proposition 49: It's budgeting by initiative. It's inflexible. It pre-empts money other programs need. It'll make it harder for future governors to do their job. In sum, it's bad public policy. That's why the League of Women Voters, California Federation of Teachers and many newspaper editorial boards oppose it. As a political tool, however, Proposition 49 is pure genius. It promises statewide after-school programs, which voters like. It promises new spending without new taxes. Schwarzenegger has used the measure to co-opt traditionally Democratic groups, such as the California Teachers Association, as well as likely Demo gubernatorial rival Attorney General Bill Lockyer. Ah-nold has neutralized likely critics -- which shows that he knows how to build coalitions. In short, Proposition 49 shows that Schwarzenegger would know how to govern. On the right, Schwarzenegger has the support of law enforcement groups, which believe some programs will reduce juvenile crime. Ah-nold stresses that his measure would fund poor schools first but also would help affluent districts to -- get this -- prevent more Columbines. Comparisons with actor-turned-pol Ronald Reagan are inevitable. Schwarzenegger shares Reagan's bedrock optimism and self-deprecating sense of humor. Both men show the confidence to let others underestimate their intelligence, if it helps them win. They differ in major ways. To start, Schwarzenegger can't run for president. He wasn't born in the United States. And Schwarzenegger is "probably farther advanced in his presentation/grasp of the issues than Reagan was in '64, '65 when he was first getting started," observed Commonwealth Club member and GOP activist Chris Bowman. At a San Francisco Chronicle editorial board meeting, the actor demonstrated that he knew the nuts and bolts of his measure. Unlike Reagan, Schwarzenegger would move the GOP closer to the middle. He's pro-choice. He uses the Democrats' argument that after-school programs will save tax dollars by keeping kids out of jail and prison. He decries the "divisiveness" of partisan politics. And he apparently has figured out that when neophyte GOP candidates boast that they're not "career politicians," the public quickly translates that to mean: They have no experience. So instead of bashing career pols, Schwarzenegger puzzles over why state officeholders don't engage in long-term planning. The message isn't: I'm new at this. It's: I want to do something. Something big. When he talks about strong leaders, Schwarzenegger cites both Reagan and John F. Kennedy. (His wife is Kennedy clan member Maria Shriver.) Schwarzenegger is so smooth on the stump that he even told The Chronicle that he thought editorial board meetings are fun. Who says he can't act?