He should have stayed in the movies. Arnold Schwarzenegger, now limping through his last year as Governor of California, is still wildly popular — outside California. European leaders, especially, remain eager to have photo-ops with the Governator. Perhaps it's the residual Hollywood glamour. It cannot be because he is successful.
While his tenure has been a huge disaster, it didn't start out that way. Schwarzenegger, a Republican, was elected in 2003 to replace Governor Gray Davis, a Democrat, in an unprecedented recall election. Davis was completely discredited immediately after winning re-election in 2002 when it was revealed that the state had a $38 billion budget deficit.
Davis's recall evoked memories of Democratic Governor Pat Brown's stunning loss to Ronald Reagan in 1966. The state was in a mess and voters gambled on a politically untested Hollywood star. With a bigger mess in 2003, Schwarzenegger ran as the super action hero he so often played. Voters decided that he was just the kind of tough outsider needed to knock heads together.
The new Governor thus began with strong popular support to cut spending and take on the powerful unions. He was making modest progress until he placed several significant reform measures before the voters in a 2005 special election. The unions raised $160 million and defeated them all.
How should a super action hero respond to his first defeat? Surely, like Reagan, by fighting back. Unfortunately, Schwarzenegger was no Reagan. It's easier to play a super hero on the screen than to be one in real life. Schwarzenegger responded by becoming just another politician. He gave up on cutting spending or fighting the unions. He moved abruptly to the Left, abandoned his Republican allies, and brought in Democrats as senior advisers.
The Governor worked with Democratic majorities in the legislature to raise spending through the roof and grant huge, new pension benefits to public employees. To top it off, Schwarzenegger became America's most successful promoter of the global-warming fad. The measures that he signed into law to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by raising energy prices are popular with hip Californians, but even before going into effect they are driving investment and manufacturing jobs out of the state.