Arnold is the God that Failed — Is California a Failed State? Do We Still Have Failure? Do We Still Have States?

It is becoming a pitiful end to an auspicious beginning. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Governator, riding in on a white horse like Vishnu, come to awaken a new age.

He loved California as George W. Bush loved Texas; as Jefferson loved Virginia. Or so it seemed. To some eyes he was the Titan conjured in the zodiac pouring water; the Aquarian arrived in the Promised Land. Instead, California found unprecedented drought and endless fire.

In many ways, Arnold was the best representative of America in our California manifestation, born free in the sun and unbeholden, welcoming the millennium’s new beginnings. And in a magnificently beautiful and temperate state just recently, in historical perspective, come into its own, he might have set a standard that would have lived on in mythology for centuries. He could have been California’s Original Man.

It was a moment of great stress when Arnold was sent to the governor’s chair in California. We were in the midst of the Iraq war and anxiety brought forth three magi in response: Howard Dean, Wesley Clark and Arnold. And like the three bears, the first was too cold, the next was just right but the third bear, the Governator, was too hot. Maybe Californians felt calling forth the Big Man would most effectively protect them against terrorism. But the bear on the California flag looks inward. Maybe it was all a romance.

We were trapped by an illusion. Ronald Reagan was a movie actor and a governor. Arnold was a movie actor and a governor. It occurred to us that Arnold might be therefore become a successful president, like Reagan. There was a constitutional barrier to that, but so there is for secretaries of State who have raised the pay grade as senators. We left these qualms behind long ago.

Arnold was Big. Big is Beautiful in a state that worships Power. But we have learned from Hollywood’s true sage, Obi-wan Kenobi, that there is treachery in those with the dual nature and it contains a riddle: When they come in twos, you have to ask, which is the Emperor and which is the Sith? It is best explained perhaps by Niels Bohr: One can be a Particle or one can be a Wave, but not both at the same time. Reagan was not so much an actor as an entertainer. He said so himself. His true nature was governor. The actor part was his shade. Arnold, it has to be said today, is a failed governor. But he was a great actor. The governor part was a romance.

And we hear today that in all likelihood, he will find himself a job in the Obama administration. The romance which is Obama.

Failure used to be a good and time-honored human mechanism. It used to teach us what we are good at and what we are not so good at. It used to teach us who we are and who we are not. Do we still have failure?

Since we have neither king nor gods here in the Land of the Free, it was worth a try. Arnold was sent to Sacramento in an unprecedented procedure. California, almost overnight, in a heightened state of anxiety, threw out the elected governor, Gray Davis. But California was in a state of economic crisis and its economy was compared by famous economists like Paul Krugman of The New York Times to one of those countries near the equator where it is too hot to work in the day so people have the good luck to be able to chew federally issued coca leaves in the afternoon and sing at night. A radical transition in the political procedures would be justified, provided that Arnold could restore California’s character and economic viability. Make it more like, say, Texas.

Beneath the anxiety of the war on Iraq, there was a true crisis here. Californians, whose economy was the size of France’s, we were frequently told, were not able to find a way to live within a budget. It is a little like those unfortunate people we hear of today who bought houses larger than they could afford, but bigger. The size of France.

"It's not because of [California's] economy, because it's deep and diverse," David Hitchcock, primary credit analyst for California with Standard & Poor's, tells The Christian Science Monitor. "It's because, financially, they've had budgets that have not proved realistic. They've had large deficits and they've only been able to pay for their budgets through borrowing for the last couple years."

Perhaps, like France, California was not ready for independent statehood. California was on the verge of becoming a failed economic state and could poison the entire national economy. That was Arnold’s assigned task: to save California, first, by bringing it into budget. That was all he needed to do. Charm would do the rest.

A confluence of the national recession and years of legislative budget games is squeezing the Golden State as never before, Ben Arnoldy reports in the Monitor. Although it's not the largest budget gap the state has ever faced, this time it will be harder for California to get help from private lenders. Standard & Poor's now ranks it lower than any other state except Louisiana, which shares the same rating.

But will lawmakers finally make the tough budget decisions they've put off for so long?

"Because California does have a perennial budget crisis, it's very easy to fall into the 'boy who cried wolf' syndrome," Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California, tells the Monitor. "This time the sky is really falling."

California lawmakers just got a Henry Paulson-like ultimatum from state officials: If they don't act, the state could be forced to suspend road, bridge and other public-works projects as early as next week. Come March, California will be out of cash for even day-to-day operations.

A question today that has to be asked, as governors like Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania and Jim Douglas of Vermont rush to Obama for a bailout, is, do states today really still exist? Being a state is like being an independent grown-up. If you have to keep going back to sleep on Daddy-o’s couch at age 30, if you still bring your laundry over for Mom to wash, if you’re still wearing an earring at age 60 (like Bill Ayers), are you actually a grown-up?

Are states like Texas and Alaska, which find pride in seeking to balance their budgets, different from the rest of us who seek bailouts? I bring it up because I have had trouble in my New Hampshire town in getting them to fly a state flag under the American flag in the town common. Do we still have states, or are we a country now of tribes, like ancient Egypt? Or is that pseudo-tribes — ad hoc and temporary groups identifying with ethnic strain, old-world religion, sexual orientation or generation — a country in transit waiting for an awakening? Have we been absorbed entirely into the participation mystique, that destroyer of all individuality?

At the beginning of the war on Iraq I suggested up here in New Hampshire that there was a states rights defense against a federal government on the march to immoral wars and untenable budgets, but only if the country recalled that we were so designed. California still had a strong regional identity, and so did the Pacific Northwest. As a governor who loved his state and identified with it, Schwarzenegger was a beacon of light from this perspective.

California’s budget deficit has widened to $14.8 billion for the next seven months, $3.6 billion more than forecast last month, amid lawmaker disagreement on how to close the gap, Bloomberg reports, as California prepares to enter federal receivership. That which rises in the night passes quickly.

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