They call him The Terminator. And not unreasonably so – for Terminate is exactly what Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has done to the Californian economy.
Remember how, not so long ago, the Golden State used to boast that if it split from the rest of the US it would become the world’s fifth biggest economy? Not any more. With unemployment at over 9 per cent (and rising), a business exodus more frenzied than the great wildebeeste migration, and a dollars 41 billion hole in its finances, California is on the verge of becoming the first state in US history to be declared bankrupt.
But hang on just a second. Wasn’t this exactly the kind of economic debacle that was supposed NOT to happen under Arnie’s take-no-prisoners stewardship?
Isn’t this why, in the early days, they called him The Governator: because he was going to “cut up the credit card”, slash red tape, high taxes and anti-competitive business regulations, slim down the bloated public sector and turn California back into the lean mean fighting machine it used to be in the days of Ronnie Reagan?
Well yes. That was the idea certainly – and it was one that persuaded quite a few of us at the time. Sure Arnie had his repellant aspects – not least, as Clive James put it, the fact the he resembles a “condom stuffed with walnuts” – but, at least, we thought, he was our humourless, monosyllabic Austrian SOB and not the enemy’s.
As actors went, we thought, he wasn’t one of those Tim Robbins, George Clooney, or Alec Baldwin types whose first move on taking the governorship would probably be to turn half of California into a giant welfare park for the homeless and released death row prisoners, and the other half into a ginormous ice rink for endangered polar bears. Arnie, we thought – and he was, after all, campaigning on a Republican ticket – would be a proper no-nonsense Conservative.
So where did it all go wrong? The kindest interpretation is that Arnie is but the hapless victim of a state so irredeemably left-wing, union-dominated and bureaucratised, that he couldn’t change its ways even if he wanted.
Like France – which each day it more closely resembles – California is caught in a classic socialistic bind: it can’t afford the welfare state, but it can’t imagine life without it. Having started with the best of intentions, the theory goes, Arnie realised he cared more about being popular than he did about giving his voters the economic cold shower that might have rescued them from their statist stupor.
At best, then, Arnie is a moral coward. He had the political capital early in his governorship to clean out the Augean mess of California’s Jabba-the-Hutt welfare state and, like Tony Blair in Britain, he funked it because he preferred being liked.
At worst, though, Arnie is something much more dangerous than that: a deluded fool with the power to do real harm. Consider his green policies. In 2006 California signed into law the toughest anti-global-warming measures of any state in the US. And perhaps they’re working – certainly the freak snow storms which visited London last month and are now sweeping Washington DC suggest someone somewhere is doing something right to bring on the new ice age – but the effect on California’s economy has been disastrous.
The killer has been the State’s forthcoming “cap and trade” measures, which will cost Californian households around $23 billion in increased electricity bills and impose strict limits on businesses regarding the amount of CO2 they emit (with hefty fines for exceeding it). This is why so many businesses are fleeing California (and why unemployment is so high). The last thing they need in a global depression is to find themselves hamstrung with needless extra costs which their competitors don’t have to pay.
Schwarzenegger’s nimble response to this crisis? To go into indestructible replicant mode and plough on regardless. “I recommend very strongly that we move forward,” he said recently. “You will always have people saying this will lose jobs.”
No, Arnie. Not just people saying you will lose jobs. People ACTUALLY losing jobs. Thousands if not millions of them. Under your governorship. As a result of green regulation that you personally introduced.
And where California leads, unfortunately, the rest of America follows. The tax and spend, eco-fascistic policies which have proved so disastrous in California are about to be applied wholesale across the US by President Obama. Copied in Britain too by David Cameron’s Tories, if the Spectator is to be believed.
Arnie, you great big dumb schmuck, you have a hell of a lot to answer for. And I don’t just mean Last Action Hero and Kindergarten Cop.