Saturday, January 17, 2009

A Year of Political Courage: Obama Needs Arnold

by Bernie Quigley

- for The Hill
on 1/19/09

Zimbabwe is failing and so is New York. I read it in the New York Times. And so is the Euro and the dollar too. And California is on the brink of breakage. We said it here first and now they are all saying it: “If what it takes to fix California -- to fix everything about the way it raises money and spends it -- is to let it wreck itself first, then maybe we have to let that happen.” – Patt Morrison’s column in the LA Times.

It can’t be as bad as all that, especially today, purportedly a day of awakening as a dynamic new President takes office. And New York is overstating it’s case for failure. Changing of the guards yes and to the good in New York’s case. There was no panic on the wing of the aircraft that ditched in the Hudson River. The passengers seemed as calm as those waiting for the subway at Columbus Circle. But California presents a case of some urgency and it should get President Obama’s first attention.

California faces a $42 billion budget deficit and is stuck in gridlock and political paralysis. The day of reckoning has been long coming and now the eighth largest economy in the world faces insolvency. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose boundless optimism brought an auspicious moment, has been unable to break the stalemate.

The situation in the southern part of the state is particularly egregious. In one day the Governor said he got a call saying there were 875 fires burning at once. Next day it was 2,014 fires. Yet, as Morrison reports, in one precinct in the town of Crest, which got savaged in the 2003 Cedar fire, voters stood 2 to 1 against the tax to pay for better firefighting equipment.

And now, as Schwarzenegger said in his state of the state speech last week, people in California are beginning to ask if California is ungovernable and even beginning to talk about a constitutional convention.

These are fair questions and it is important and fairly courageous that the Governor brings them up like this because I am not sure that Californians or most blue-state Americans for that matter, understand the consequences of living beyond their limits.

Here in the bush where we cut our own wood to keep warm – even at 30 below like it was yesterday – we are more inclined to listen to Mark Sanford and Rick Perry, Governors of South Carolina and Texas – when they make the point that deficits are only deferred taxes and eventually, someone will have to pay them back. Maybe it is only a red state thing but it seems common sense. Southern states, with a Jeffersonian tradition seem more inclined, but I was fairly surprised that shortly after Sanford made the case for less federal intervention and less debt, the local mayors bypassed him entirely and asked the feds to send them the money direct.

California is a special case. As Representative Devin Nunes has pointed out, in the year 2000, 150,000 people moved into California. In 2008, 235,000 people moved out, fleeing the sixth largest tax burden in the country. But people move to California as they move to New York City – to find a creative career – if it doesn‘t work out, they often move back to Iowa. Just the same, their seems to be little grasp of the idea of a balanced budget and federal money is looked upon as an endless trust fund.

California is now in a budget crisis but it is also in a crisis of character; that is, it has a problem about the nature and responsibilities of citizenship. It is hard to see that far daily from here in New Hampshire, but from what I read, Schwarzenegger has been a dutiful and perhaps exemplary governor. If he cannot solve this problem it may not be solvable on the state level.

But he might be able to solve this problem in Washington. And California is only on the forefront of crises that many of the other states are beginning to experience.

There is something missing in the rising Obama package. The train ride is okay and the family theme – Michelle and the girls - is a delight. But, as Karl Rove has pointed out, Joe Biden is a dork. And Hillary is a Revenge Demon.

Obama is missing the same thing that Kennedy was missing: A Sword. In every epic historic period successful leadership always comes in two parts, which in a TQM seminar was once called the “Warrior and the Monk Constellation” (See Hiroshi Inagaki’s Samurai Trilogy for a cursory exposition): Washington without Jefferson would have been a failure. Jefferson without Washington would have been nothing. Likewise, Lincoln and Grant and Roosevelt and Eisenhower. This is the basic anthropology of top leadership and management. Even the Christ came with a Sword and the Sword was Paul.

Jack Kennedy had no Sword. Nor does Obama currently have one.

Obama says he wants to be a cool President. I am looking forward to the birth of the cool, but if he doesn’t find a Sword to manage his will and vision, he will float off into the blissful blue with Miles Davis.

Arnold has all but offered Obama the Sword of Conan. He’s crazy if he doesn’t accept it.

In his state of the state speech Schwarzenegger called for “a year of political courage.” He comes to us with the sincerity and the élan and enthusiasm of a new American. Obama should draft him and pull him out of California. His talent and enthusiasm is boundless and I suspect, so would be his abilities if he could get to a stage large enough to fit this truly big man.

I’m feeling that Arnold today is a little like Randy Moss was when stuck in a tired football club in California, watching Tom Brady in New England throw the ball maybe like no one else had ever thrown it before, and knowing that if only he could work with him he could catch the ball as no one had ever caught it before.

Likewise Obama need Arnold and Arnold needs Obama and the entire country not just California needs a year of political courage.