Molly Ivins

The Trouble with Mr. Universe


One problem I have with Arnold Schwarzenegger is that he looks like a condom stuffed with walnuts. I realize that is superficial, shallow and unbecoming to a semi-serious-minded liberal like myself, but there it is. The other is that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about when it comes to public policy.

And therein lies our thesis for the day: Politics as showbiz versus what actually happens to real people’s lives as a result of stupid public policies. When 200,000 poor children get knocked off a federal health insurance program because a state decides it can’t afford the one-fifth co-pay, what happens? In fact, children rarely die, because when they are finally horribly ill and burning up with fever, their parents take them to an emergency room, where they receive excellent care at a very high cost to the rest of us. In the meantime, their teeth aren’t attended, and their hearing and eyesight are never checked. As a result, many of them try to function in school with tooth pain or without being able to see or hear clearly. Those little kids aren’t celebrities, but they’re just as real as Arnold Schwarzenegger, they have bangs and bright eyes and dreams.

When a state does something really dumb, like pass a three-strikes law, people wind up doing life for minor crimes—so minor it’s mind-boggling— theft of a sandwich, stole a mop. What they usually need is treatment for alcoholism or addiction so they can become productive members of society. Instead, they rot behind bars at a cost to the taxpayers of $40,000 a year per head, draining the state of resources to improve the schools and teach all those bright little ones who would take California into the next generation of high tech.

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s top adviser is, of all people, former California governor Pete Wilson, the man who caused the mess Gray Davis got the blame for. “Blackout Pete” is the guy who made utility deregulation the centerpiece of his administration. Wilson said deregulation would mean lower prices, a new age of better, cheaper, more reliable energy. The magic of the marketplace would inevitably lead to lower prices. You can look it up.

Instead, deregulation opened the market to gaming by crooked enterprises like Enron (how could they resist?), and they milked $45 billion out of California’s economy before the Bush administration finally, finally, at long, long last allowed the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to slap on price controls.

During those rolling blackouts, people’s ventilators went out, dialysis machines stopped, old people who needed air conditioning were left to swelter and people’s lives were at stake.This is not showbiz. You can’t fix it with a quick script change.

When the Republicans in Congress, led by the increasingly out-of-control Tom DeLay, announced they would not vote for money to fix the electric grid because (gasp! shudder!) it is a Democratic bill, they did not increase the odds of drilling in the Alaskan Wildlife Refuge (which has nothing to do with blackouts), they merely insured there will be more blackouts. While politicians play dumb politician games, real people suffer. Real people’s lives are changed, and not for the better.

This sort of “Oh, hell, anybody can run the country, you don’t have to know anything” attitude is beyond ludicrous. I’m sorry, but Jesse Ventura, whom I thoroughly enjoy as a personality, was a disaster as governor of Minnesota. A few elementary basics, like understanding the school aid formula, having some idea how to set fair insurance rates, and knowing what home health care providers need and a few hundred other subjects are a minimum requirement. Sure, you can surround some attractive political personality with top-notch aides, experts, advisers and bureaucrats, and many a dim bulb in executive office has been pulled through by just such a team. But it helps, honest, if you have a leader who has knowledge, understanding and vision. I grant you, they’re in short supply, but “Hasta la vista, baby” doesn’t sound that good when people’s lives are on the line.

I realize Gray Davis was supposed to be Mr. Experience, Mr. Detail—and didn’t he make a fine mess out of things? Yes, he did. He panicked during the energy crisis (brought about by Wilson), groveled at the feet of Southern California Edison (which wrote the electricity de-reg bill in California), begged for power to keep lights on and overpaid billions for it. Too true. But use your noggin, is that really an argument in favor of putting somebody who knows nothing in charge?

As far as I know, Mr. Schwarzenegger is as qualified as any other citizen to run for public office. So why doesn’t he start with the school board or the country commissioner’s office and learn something about what is involved first?

Molly Ivins is a nationally syndicated columnist. Her book with Lou Dubose, Bushwacked: Life in George W. Bush’s America, will be published by Random House this month.