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Lance T. Izumi - Contributor
[Courtesty of Pacific Research Institute]

Lance Izumi is Director of Education Studies for the Pacific Research Institute and
Senior Fellow in California Studies. He is a leading expert in education policy and the author of several major PRI studies. [go to Izumi index]

Davis Was Carter But Is Arnold Another Reagan?
Davis was doomed from the beginning...
[Lance T. Izumi] 10/16/03

It's not often that one gets to make a public prediction and have it come true. In April 1999, just after Gray Davis first took office as governor of California, I wrote a column for the California Journal that posited that the seemingly invincible Davis could become the next Jimmy Carter. Even at that early date the signs of Davis's ultimate failure were discernible for anyone willing to look closely.

Back then, many were pumping Davis as a new Bill Clinton - a moderate-talking Democrat motivated by polling data and focus groups rather than knee-jerk liberalism. Davis had, for example, successfully stolen the Republicans' "tough-on-crime" issue, effectively neutering Dan Lungren, Davis's 1998 GOP opponent. However, once in office, Davis's governing style emulated Carter rather than the centrist Clinton.

Davis and Carter had major "forest-for-the-trees" problems. Like Carter, Davis was a micro-manager of the first order. Carter wanted to control the detailed minutiae of White House operations including whom his senior aides hired as secretaries and who played on the White House tennis court. Davis went over his press releases with a fine-tooth comb and argued about which secretary should make that day's Federal Express run. Davis, like Carter, could never see the big picture. He lacked an overall vision, which meant that he had no compass to guide him in dealing with major problems.

Carter muddled through the oil crisis of the 1970s displaying zero leadership and eventually giving in to despair. In my California Journal piece, I said, "Paralysis in the face of difficult policy challenges sank Carter, and it could sink Davis." Davis would subsequently prove this observation all too prescient.

He failed to nip the electricity crisis in the bud when he had the opportunity to do so. He enjoyed a $12-billion budget surplus at the beginning of his governorship, but failed to stop liberals in the Legislature from dramatically hiking spending when revenues started to tank. Even as the red ink rose, Davis stayed notoriously disengaged.

In the end, Gray Davis, like Jimmy Carter, crashed and burned because he had no raison d'être. Ed Meese noted: "Reagan, in contrast to Carter, was a big-picture man. Carter could tick off a list of inconsequential details about some aspect or other of federal policy, but seemed to have little idea where he wanted to lead the country. Reagan did not immerse himself in details, but he had a true vision of what he wanted to accomplish, and how the various components of his policy fit together." Although it is still too early to tell, Arnold Schwarzenegger seems to be cut from the Reagan mold in some significant ways.

The governor-elect has laid out a big-picture vision that includes low taxes and smaller government, plus a nuanced social agenda that appeals to moderates surrounded himself with a top-notch team, is willing to listen and to delegate. Further, Democrats, who constantly underestimated Reagan, seem to be underestimating Schwarzenegger. Cranky Sen. John Vasconcellos of San Francisco calls the governor-elect a "boob," while his ultraliberal comrade from Santa Monica, Sheila Kuehl, calls him ignorant.

Reagan made Democrats regret their sneering condescension. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is undoubtedly bright and thoughtful, may do the same.

copyright 2003 Pacific Research Institute



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