There is a certain happiness sighted when your bus comes along. It is of course a small specialized form of happiness and will never be a great thing.

-Richard Brautigan, The Old Bus

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Party of One on the bus

Finished Daniel Weintraub's "Party of One: Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Rise of the Independent Voter." Weintraub does a fine job of crafting an admiring portrait of Schwarzenegger as governor.

Weintraub is upfront about where he comes from in writing the book:

For the past four years, I've watch Schwarzenegger do his job as closely as anyone. And I've watched with a special interest. Like Schwarzenegger, I am not wedded to the views of any one political party. I have been a registered Republican and a registered Democrat, and I am currently registered with no party at all. I consider myself to be a fiscal conservative with a bit of libertarian streak. I believe in individual responsibility. When it comes to social policy, I think government should act only as a last resort, and mainly to ensure equal opportunity, not equal results. I am an old-school liberal, a live-and-let-live person who believes government should generally leave people alone to do their own thing. And I am an environmental progressive, because when you blow soot in my lungs or dump toxins into my water, you are no longer just doing your own thing. You're messing with my life. As it turns out, these beliefs are a pretty good match for Schwarzenegger's.
And while Weintraub does criticize some of the governor's actions, his personal disappointment is clear.

Of course, I'm not a disinterested observer any more than Weintraub. I'm a yellow-dog Democrat raised by a woman who was inspired to become politically active by the Adlai Stevenson presidential campaigns. And I'm also a Democrat who was so disappointed by Gov. Gray Davis' performance in office that I voted for the recall, and I even voted for Schwarzenegger on the off chance that maybe he was something different.

Weintraub explains the Schwarzenegger's difference, how his ideas are not limited by partisan ideology. Weintraub argues that Schwarzenegger's success, at least in terms of popularity among voters, derives from this nonpartisan focus. This, Weintraub says, meshes well with the desires of Californians to have government officials working to fix problems rather than scoring ideological points.

Unfortunately, Weintraub has written the book before the story is over. Substantial portions of the book deal with issues -- health care, school reform and legislative redistricting -- that have since fallen victim to the economic downturn that has struck California. While his criticism of the governor for failing to attack the structural budget issues is prescient, it doesn't compensate for the way the book leaves these issues hanging.

Weintraub explains in the introduction:
I hope this book serves as a guide to readers of all political persuasions who want to better understand the Schwarzenegger phenomenon, its effect on California, and its potential application to the rest of the nation.
This he has done. Writing the book a year later -- or, better yet, when the governor left office -- might have provided the opportunity to hammer home the tragedy of the governor's failure to get a handle on budget reform. Still, Weintraub has written a valuable book. I imagine it will be one of several contemporary works used by future historians as original source material.

No comments: