Dear Arnold Schwarzenegger,
This letter was written to Arnold Schwarzenegger, an old friend of Lightning-Bolt’s, during the very final days of his Governorship of California. The letter never reached its intended destination as it was sent via a fat carrier pigeon which veered hopelessly off course in a crosswind and found itself flying over the Pentagon where it was promptly shot down. The letter, stained with pigeon’s blood, was extracted from the tube tied to its feet after it plummeted right outside the front gates of the Pentagon and was kept in a dossier marked “Suspicious Mail Delivered to United States Soil”. The dossier in question was accidently leaked under hapless circumstances when one of the staff threw it in the garbage and a bin man who in his spark of curiosity thought he was onto a conspiracy and took the file back home to read all the letters. To his disappointment, not a single conspiratorial word was included in the file, which he then tosses out the window. As the queerest twist of chance would have it, a strong wind similar to the one which blew the pigeon off course, scattered the letters across the sky and this one made it back to Lightning-Bolt’s front door.
January 1st, 2011
The Office of the Governor of California
1303 10th Street, Suite 1173
Sacramento, CA 95814
To: Arnold Schwarzenegger
Happy New Year. We’ve made it through the first stinking year of this decade and now we’re in for a whole new set of realities. Are we sure we’re for this? Probably not. It’s been quite some time since we’ve spoken, feels like a distant memory an entire lifetime away which comes back to you during the unlikeliest of moments. Yours came back to me last night during a particularly unhinged new year’s party when word finally reached me that your time as the Governor of California is coming to an end. It’s no secret to anyone that you’re leaving the state of California in a shape which resembles very closely to a human body after it’s thrown out of the top most window of a skyscraper. You’ve created one blighted mess with the institutions all eroded and finances so messed up that $6 billion debt you picked up has now climbed to well over $25 billion. If I know you at all, I know that this fact is wrenching your gut in all sorts of abstract shapes and that this wasn’t your intention. This letter is not an exercise in twisting the knife, but as a friend telling another where and how he screwed up. Ugly memories from a lifetime away will come streaming back at you, don’t fight them. There are lessons to be learnt.
New recollections are beginning to unfurl as I remember the day you took over the office of the Governor in 2003 on that bright November morning. Stomping all over that dense-headed slobbering mess Gray Davis, you marched into office like a true rising star. You muscled your way into office as the leader of California, with no practical political experience under your belt, with all the confidence and manoeuvrability of tornado.
You had all the makings of success, you said all the right things during your campaign, vowing to build the state of California back together and getting the fiscal house back in order. Claims so out there and lofty that they would’ve been received with scoffs and howls of persiflage from the polarised legislature had it come out the mouth of any other candidate. But not you Arnie, you were the new political action hero. Charming, witty, charismatic, arms the size and magnitude of steel girders, you had a good moderate grasp on social issues like supporting the Death Penalty, gay rights and abortion, and you always had education and the youth, especially the disabled in mind. You had the support of businesses in your back pocket, because when you burst out on the political scene, you tore apart the stale fabric of state-wide politics which were growing fuliginous with repetitive recurrence, injected it with your stardom and turned it a living blockbuster.
The Californian people could finally look forward to a dream, but what they fell into instead over the course of your stay in office was a social nightmare which has ended with you leaving office in a few days with an approval rating so shamefully low that it’ll go down in history. Hell, you only managed to score a single percent higher than your predecessors 22%.
How the mighty fall…
What the people of California wanted was an iron infrastructure, a well-regarded school and university system, protection for the financially and physically vulnerable without any sacrifices for everyone else. Sadly, in today’s society that is a pretty tall order and we’ve reached this rotten stage through centuries of greed and hubris, qualities which are inherent in the political human. The way of the left-leaning Democrat would’ve been to raise taxes in order to keep up with the rising costs of these services. Whereas, the Republican method would’ve been to acknowledge the price of these fiscal ‘luxuries’ and either scale back on all of them or scrap some of them.
And you’ve continually labelled yourself as a Republican have you not? You once told me that Richard Nixon was the reason you turned to that political direction, despite my apprehension. You said he inspired in you all the qualities of a good country which ran contrary to the socialism in Austria from which you fled. You need only take one quick glance at history and you’ll see the black rot that Dick Nixon’s name is spreading across the pages. He’s gone down as a liar and a cheat, who turned the United States into untrustworthy institution of repugnance and violence. But it wouldn’t be fair to compare you to him. Afterall, we are never our heroes.
You told the people precisely what they wanted to hear, no tax rises.
“More taxes will destroy what we’re trying to save, which is jobs and revenue.” Remember that?
“Jobs bring revenue to the state, and revenue allows us to do the right things for education, environment, disabled and elderly people, and all those who are in need. A tax increase would be the final nail in California’s financial coffin.”
I do admire your determination, but I’m sorry my friend, you just can’t have it both ways. Your words sound like they’re coming out of the mouth of a mutant spliced together from all perfect characteristics of a Republican and a Democrat. It would’ve taken one long read of your first budget to see how misguided your ambitions were before you signed all over them. Some would argue that it was your first act as governor which galvanised this terrible wildfire that left the state’s finances in cinders when you pledged to repeal Davis’ Motor Vehicle License Fee, which he had tripled, costing motorists $158 a year. In doing so you also blew a giant goddamn hole, which cost $4 billion, in a budget already in the red. The best strategy would’ve been to tell the voters you’d only cut the fee down by half or even a quarter until you got your finances back in order rather than block off yet another source of money. On the flip side, property values in California were turning lucrative with positive growth and unemployment was under 7%, sounds like the Golden State is breeding golden geese. But despite all of that it was impossible to generate enough revenue to fund all the operations you desperately wanted to keep alive. And once that property bubble burst, you were in bad fucking shape because you started making deals with your own future, hacking away at the state’s safety net with the machete of damage control in a feverish effort to rebalance its shambolic finances.
Billions of dollars which were set aside for AIDS prevention, women’s health services, care for the poor and vulnerable, drug treatment for pregnant women and rental subsidies for the elderly, you purged. This turned out to be a grim precursor to that final budget you signed for 2010-11 where you eviscerated £256 million meant for childcare for low paid workers who just recently fell off welfare, $80 million meant for investigations into child abuse and neglect, and $133 million meant for mental health services. No matter how hard you tried to get a grip on the downward spiralling finances by cutting social services, debts kept ballooning and deficits continued to increase to a point where you even resorted to borrowing against future earnings by pawning off 11 state properties in a distress sale to a real estate consortium for $2.33 billion. Gambling away the future of your voters is no way to secure their present, and had they found out just what you were doing to their safety net, they would’ve dragged you out of office and torn you apart limb by limb. Had you just levelled with the people in the first place and told them up front all the hard truths about the finances and inevitable tax rises then you would’ve at least given them the choice of picking between a reality with low taxes and compromised services, or one with high taxes and better infrastructure. Instead, you drove them deeper into a collective civic delirium, all the while the economy alongside your political power atrophied.
All those promises you made about quality education never bore fruit either, causing yearly tuition fees to double (California State University from £1428 to $4230) or even triple (University of California from £3900 to $12,150). It wasn’t as if both universities were operating effortlessly before you got your hands on the education bills, but by the time you were through with them, both schools were completely crippled when it came to their operation capacity, fewer class choices, fewer professors and lecturers and barely any athletic programs.
Oh, how you marched into office wanting to shake down those reified orthodoxies which so grossly pervaded the political history through that perennial Republican/Democratic binary. You had your eyes on that centralist majority, that untapped middle ground which would also prove to be the high ground. But once the machine got moving, you lost all control and turned into a partisan, swapping sides when it served you best and always at odds with the lawmakers in your administration. Calling them “girly-men” and sending senate majority leaders metal bull testicles when they don’t agree with your plans shows the right spirit, and you more than most know my eye for that kind of sick sense of humour, but in a political office that sort of symbolism won’t earn you many friends.
Although every decision you made in office widened the already continental divide between you and your voters, you never lost the support of your business backers. The general public found themselves on the wrong end of two of the most vicious budget cutting reforms of your administration; a law in 2004 which reduced the worker’s compensation by, among many other things, letting employers pick the doctors who would evaluate on the job injuries, and the 2010 state pension legislation which slashed the level of benefits given to new hires. The private sector being exempt from those cut backs and taxes didn’t have to sacrifice as much – or anything at all in some cases – as the workers and students. You might recall the time you expressed your opposition for Proposition 87 which was an alternative energy initiative that slapped an extraction tax on oil companies for every barrel of crude oil filled, on the grounds that it was an unjust tax. I still hold true to my belief that you made a stupid goddamn mistake there, letting those oil barons cleave the ground into pieces without impunity to fuel our hopeless addiction to fossil energy. This would’ve urged oil companies to look for alternative, less environmentally damaging ways to farm fuel. And no to mention the $400 million a year it would’ve bought in, a ticket to the same gravy train Texas and Alaska have been riding for the last few years, swimming in the billions of dollars of revenue they’ve pulled in over the time they’d enforced this act.
So, you spend another $38 million to crush Proposition 87 and cajole all those oil companies to continue backing you. Chevron Corporations even chipped $44,600 to your re-election campaign and another $50,000 to your privately funded inaugural ball in 2007. I imagine the execs at Chevron weren’t too pleased when two years later you found yourself in the soup and decided to pull a 180 and proposed an extraction tax to pump $850 million back into the state treasury.
Mother of God! Let us not forget that whole deathmatch you picked against the nurses during your first year in office…
The unions were breathing down your neck and your solution to appeasing them is to shelf a law which mandated a lowering of the nurse-to-patient ratio, effectively leaving nurses with far more patients under their care. The California Nurses Association were in livid exasperation as they felt stabbed in the back by this. And it’s not as if you didn’t hear their fulminating on account of registered nurses being sent to each one of your public appearances to hound you across the state. At the first annual Women’s Conference, which you cosponsored your wife Maria (send her my love by the way) you heard some rogue voices in the crowd, those of nurses heckling you naked, which you even made great effort to identify as “special interests” who “don’t like you because you’re always kicking their butts.” Then came that TV advert which lingered on people’s screens all throughout the day like expensive perfume clings to skin.
“The one thing the public should know is that one day you will be in that bed and realise that because of the number of patients one nurse has to take care of, you may be calling and there’s no one there.”
You’ve got to admit that’s one powerful TV spot, pointing the fingers straight at the people, then tacitly at you. Hitting the right nerves which trigger compassion and fear simultaneously, and denouncing you all within the same breath. Had you a team of media wizards like that on your hands and you’d have been untouchable on the TV screen.
Anyway, you saw in your infinite wisdom to then double down and privatise the state worker’s pension fund in 2005, not only adding fuel to the nurse’s anathema for you, but incited other state workers; police, teachers and firefighters, to join in this burgeoning demonstration against you. That acrimonious symphony of voices in opposition to you were all screaming the same thing, pay based on seniority rather than merit and to release the $2 billion that had been promised for their pension. If you were ever looking for that particular moment in time when your public approval rating took a nose dive, it was then, because it tripped and fell to a bloody broken nose of 36%, leaving about 55% of your current voters disinclined to re-elect you.
When you lurched violently 180 degrees and hired a Susan Kennedy as your chief of staff, a democrat and not to mention former cabinet member of the guy you took over from, that must’ve been one hell of a day in your office. Leery faces and suspicious furtive glances shooting like a swarm of arrows across the desks as she walks into the office. This came just in time for your new makeover, a political revamp, whether intentional or not, when you swivelled yet again and cast yourself as an eco-governor. You challenged George W. Bush’s EPA as they refused to regulate their tail-pipe emissions, defied your entire party and even the president when you announced that you’d cut down California’s carbon emissions down to 20% of 1990’s by 2050. Although that move didn’t come without opprobrium, did it? The Republican’s felt cheated by one of their own and finally saw you for your willingness to throw them to the sharks to save your own skin. What did that scum-sucker friend Dana Rohrabacher say about you that one time?
“His number one goal was not to be seen as a failure. Unfortunately, when all you want to do is appear not to be a failure, you’re doomed to be a failure.”
Pick a thesaurus you baboon! However, there’s some grain of truth in his ineloquent remarks. You had an extreme case of monomania over your political image, to such an extent that you lost sight of the reason why you ran for the governorship and plugged yourself into this perambulating vortex of a political trip in the first place. But when you finally came to your senses and embraced the climate change problem, you echoed the voices of millions of people which were becoming renascent and the Californians saw in you that old star fire which had turned lambent in recent days. You came back into your own by 2006 when you fused your words to law with the Global Warming Solutions Act, turning yourself into an emblematic figure for environmental protections, both in the political circuit and all around Hollywood. You must’ve been doing something right because it secured your re-election. Your messages beamed far and wide at the speed of sound, at a pace unmatched by any other politician, because with your media credentials, you were the only politico who could call a press conference and find 60 TV cameras there waiting for you.
Your old friend Rohrabacher wasn’t exactly leaping with joy at your recent flowering.
“It’s insane. It’s totally insane. Who would ever dream that this guy who ran against bureaucracy and regulations would be basing his assessment of his success on a bill that will do more to destroy the viability of the California economy than anything that’s passed in ten years? Republicans believe in freeing human activity and freeing up people – energising them rather than putting shackles on them in the name of some, say, mythical climate crisis.”
Christ, these are words which won’t age well in about 10 years…
The way you confronted the climate crisis and rallied the people together to curtail their emissions under a common cause, you salvaged what remained of your already ossified reputation and were able to walk out of office at the end of your term without rotten fruit hurled at you. You grabbed the reigns of this problem and quit the hasty side-swapping, myopic compromises and wanton cost-cutting which compromised the future of the people who you had turned against yourself.
Though sloppy and inconsistent in most of your other decisions, if there’s one thing you kept your head screwed on real tight for, it was the employment climate of the state. Your nigh-flawless track record of vetoing bills which would’ve imposed more strain and strife over the workers made you their man (for a time). Out of the 67 “job-killer” bills which landed on your mahogany desk, you rejected all but 4 of them.
The candle that burns twice as bright, burns for half as long my friend, and you burnt out before you even sat down in the chair. You may possibly be among that unnameable pool of the worst governors to ever take the helm of California, but your heart is in the right place. You made promises which were impossible to keep once things got a bit too heavy and you didn’t want to let the people down. All notions of a plan and direction completely faded once the boat began capsizing and sheer panic took over your brain. You’re a flawed human, but luckily for you, there’s lunatics out there way worse than you, and that’s only natural. You’ve served your reckoning and now you’re leaving the state in the hands of Jerry Brown. It only makes sense that a hardened veteran like that guy would step up to the plate, but time will tell whether he can live up to his credentials. As you’ve said it yourself, “my drug is pumping iron” and there’s plenty of that to go around now that you’ve got all this free time on your hands.
Anyway, I must be leaving you. Drop me a line sometime and we’ll go grab a beer.