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From One Extreme to Another
Schwarzenegger’s Strategy of Capitulation
[Carol Platt Liebau] 12/6/05

In the wake of the voters’ stinging repudiation of all four ballot measures he backed in the costly and contentious Nov. 8 special election, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is working feverishly to regain his political footing. In a recent staff shake-up, the Governor’s chief of staff, Republican Pat Clarey, announced her resignation.

But in choosing her successor, Governor Schwarzenegger has made one of the biggest mistakes of his political career. He has selected Susan Kennedy, a former top aide to recalled Governor Gray Davis and former executive director of the California Democratic Party and of the California Abortion Rights Action League, as Clarey’s replacement.

Carol Platt Liebau - Senior

Carol Platt Liebau is editorial director and a senior member of tOR and CRO editorial boards. She is an attorney, political analyst and commentator based in San Marino, CA, and has appeared on the Fox News Channel, MSNBC, CNN, Orange County News Channel, Cox Cable and a variety of radio programs throughout the United States. A graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School, Carol Platt Liebau also served as the first female managing editor of the Harvard Law Review. Her web log can be found at [go to Liebau index]

No doubt “reaching out” to the Democrats who dominate the state legislature is the motive behind Kennedy’s hiring. Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata seems delighted with the choice, asserting that it’s a “statement to the people the governor feels he most needs to work with to move an agenda.”

But the choice is an ominous sign that Schwarzenegger has decided that moving an agenda – any agenda – is more important than fighting for the platform on which he was elected. It smacks of political cowardice – a calculation that virtual surrender to his political enemies is the only way that Schwarzenegger can salvage his credibility and popularity, while earning “bragging rights” for legislative “accomplishments,” whatever their content.

Schwarzenegger’s strategy is doomed to fail. Democrats and special interests destroyed his popularity in the run-up to the special election through a relentlessly negative and inaccurate advertising campaign. Then they handed him a humiliating defeat on Election Day. There’s no reason to believe that the Democrats will call a truce now – no matter who Schwarzenegger chooses as his chief of staff. They want a Democrat in the Governor’s chair – someone who shares their philosophy of bigger government, higher taxes and unlimited giveaways to the unions and other special interests that subsidize the party. Even if the Governor offers them 90%, there’s no reason for them not to prefer the candidate that will offer them 100%.

By rolling over for the Democrats like a well-trained puppy, Schwarzenegger loses much more than the respect and support of his Republican base. Susan Kennedy isn't just an liberal Democrat activist – she’s also an emblem of the administration of the reviled Gray Davis. By choosing her as his chief of staff, Schwarzenegger has not only symbolically embraced the unpopular man he defeated, he has also eroded the distinctions between himself and the corrupt and sclerotic Democratic political establishment of California – squandering the “outsider status” that has been one of his chief assets.

He thereby forfeits his best strategy for regaining the confidence and political support of California’s voters. Rather than simply capitulating to the Democrats, Schwarzenegger would be better served by choosing a few simple but popular issues and speaking directly to voters with simple, unscripted messages, educating them about his positions and helping them understand just how out of touch, unreasonable (and greedy) the Democrats and special interests really are.

Schwarzenegger should begin by resisting calls from the predictable left-wing interest groups to commute four-time murderer and Crips founder Stanley “Tookie” Williams’ death sentence, and then explain why justice requires it. He should make sure Californians know that he recently vetoed legislation that would have given drivers’ licenses to illegal immigrants – a law passed in defiance of Californians’ explicit wishes. He should continue to denounce the excessive benefits flowing to state government employees – and point out how those dollars could make a difference in financing infrastructure repair and paying down California’s debt. And he should emphasize his support for party-blind, color-blind redistricting reform – contrasting his position with an emerging Democratic plan requiring special recognition for “communities of interest,” an infinitely elastic term that would allow boundary drawers to use any arbitrary classification (from race to geographic similarity) as a guiding principle in creating legislative districts.

Taking an incremental approach to showing Californians why his policies are superior to the Democrats’ lacks the drama of the bold political strokes the Governor apparently prefers. But the strategy can be effective over time. The Governor has more weapons in his political arsenal than he apparently believes he does – chiefly, the fame and charisma that allow him to speak to voters over legislators’ heads, especially now, with the election season over and done.

But it seems that Schwarzenegger has veered from one extreme to another. Having lost with a strategy of aggressive confrontation toward Democrats, he appears to have adopted an approach calling for abject capitulation to them. The sad facts are that his new plan won’t work any better than his old one did – and that his new chief of staff is hardly likely to confront him with this tough but unavoidable truth. -one-


Columnist Carol Platt Liebau is a political analyst, commentator and tOR / CRO editorial director based in San Marino, CA. Ms. Liebau also served as the first female managing editor of the Harvard Law Review. Her web log can be found at

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