Schwarzenegger shows the value
of having upbeat attitude in politics
Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger returned to Sacramento recently and reminded us of a beneficial trait he possesses that is sorely lacking in today’s polarized politics: an upbeat attitude.
There’s currently too much bellowing, blaming and belligerence — and hatred — to make democracy work productively the way the republic’s founders intended.
True, it’s easier to be upbeat when you’re super rich and a global celebrity — one who has soared to the top in three competitive ventures: bodybuilding, movies and politics.
Conversely, being upbeat and an eternal optimist throughout life surely is a major reason why Schwarzenegger, 76, rose to the top of the heap, accumulating stardom, wealth and power.
It made him an extraordinarily interesting moderate Republican governor for seven years — not always successful, but constantly trying and bold.
I was reminded of Schwarzenegger’s value to the political world when he came back to the state capital to celebrate the 20th anniversary of his swearing-in as governor on Nov. 17, 2003, having ousted Democrat Gray Davis in a unique recall election.
Right here I’ll admit to a pro-Schwarzenegger bias regarding one matter: his positive, practical relationship with the news media.
That doesn’t mean he was treated gently in the press. Coverage was often hard-hitting. The Times exposed allegations that
he groped women right before the recall election.
As governor, Schwarzenegger was criticized in print
But he chose the Sacramento Press Club to host one of two inaugural anniversary celebrations. He did an hourlongQ&A session during a sold-out luncheon. A later evening reception attended by hundreds was organized by alumni of the Schwarzenegger administration.
Asking the Press Club to host a luncheon for him enabled the organization
to sell tickets and raise several thousand dollars
for its scholarship fund to help college journalism students.
That was Schwarzenegger’s pattern as governor. Each January, he would speak to a sold-out Press Club luncheon, pitching his legislative agenda and raising thousands of dollars for journalism scholarships.
But not his successors: Democrats Jerry Brown and Gavin Newsom.
Brown appeared only once in eight years. Newsom never has, although he seemingly jumps at every opportunity to appear on national TV. It wouldn’t matter except that he’s denying journalism students thousands of dollars in scholarship money.
“I would not be sitting here today if it weren’t for the press,” Schwarzenegger replied when veteran political writer Carla Marinucci, the luncheon Q&A moderator, asked him how he viewed his news coverage as governor.
What he meant was that whether it was in bodybuilding, movie acting or being governor, if journalists had not informed the public about him, he would not have become a household name. He’d have been like the proverbial giant tree falling in the isolated forest.
“I had a great relationship with the press after I became governor,” he said. “I’m a happy camper.”
Unlike so many politicians, particularly MAGA Republicans, Schwarzenegger did not habitually accuse reporters of prejudicial coverage or spreading “fake news” — even when they took his hide off.
That’s one example of his upbeat, sunny personality, a trait that applied to his governing generally.
“It was the best seven years of my life without any doubt,” he told the Press Club.
But his “anything’s possible” belief led to both good and bad decisions.
“I loved — I mean loved — challenges,” he told the luncheon crowd. “And I love when people would say, ‘This can’t be done. ... It will be impossible. ...’
“The more they said those things the more excited I got because I love danger. I hate a boring life, which I call ‘existing.’ I love living fully with the dangers and the failures and the successes.”
Schwarzenegger wouldn’t listen to people he called “naysayers.”
OK, that can be admirable but it’s a dangerous two-edged sword. The naysayers were usually experienced political and government hands trying to give the novice practical advice.
Sage advice such as don’t call a special election to push a package of wide-ranging so-called reforms that had weak support. The governor did anyway in 2005 and was uncharacteristically humiliated when voters rejected his measures in a landslide.
“I got the message,” Schwarzenegger said afterward.
The governor got it so well that the next year he promoted $37 billion in infrastructure bonds that voters readily approved.
Schwarzenegger’s persistence gained voter approval of a vital political reform: ending the Legislature’s gerrymandering of legislative and congressional districts.
But the optimist often over-promised and couldn’t deliver, as when he vowed to “tear up the credit cards,” “end the crazy deficit spending” and “live within our means.” It was a pleasant dream.
Schwarzenegger was self-confident enough that he didn’t bow to his party’s base, unlike most politicians. Hollywood’s action hero famously spoke the truth to a Republican state convention in 2007, admonishing that “we are dying at the box office. We are not filling the seats.”
He warned that the GOP could win in California only by “expanding into the center, not falling back upon ourselves into a smaller and smaller corner.”
The GOP regarded Schwarzenegger as a heretic naysayer and retreated into a much smaller corner.
Now “we need new blood” in political leadership, he told the Press Club. “New energy, a new way of looking at [problems].” He cited Democrat John F. Kennedy and Republican Ronald Reagan as the “fresh blood” of their eras.
But Schwarzenegger insisted he wasn’t criticizing President Biden.
As for former President Trump: “Look, I don’t want to comment now on every single stupid thing that he says [or I’ll] be sitting here for the next eight days.”
Schwarzenegger has never left any doubt that he’d run for president if he could. The native Austrian is barred because he wasn’t born in the United States.
“I’m not going to complain about it,” he said. “Because every single thing that I’ve accomplished in my life is because of America.”
American politics could use more of Schwarzenegger’s upbeat swagger.