Commentary: As California governor, Schwarzenegger was all sizzle, no steak

The Sacramento BeeOctober 8, 2012 


Sacramento Bee columnist Marcos Breton.

SCOTT LORENZO — Sacramento Bee/MCT

I used to love Arnold Schwarzenegger's movies. I met the former governor of California at The Bee, interviewed him, and he seemed a decent person.

Schwarzenegger's selection of Tani Cantil-Sakauye as chief justice of the California Supreme Court was inspired – the child of Filipino immigrants rising from humble Sacramento roots to become a distinguished jurist leading our highest state court.

The former governor is nothing if not a shrewd judge of narratives, though his gifts seemed to most often serve as a vehicle to make money and consolidate power for himself.

To what end?

Maybe one day his seven years as governor won't seem like such a big waste.

But right now, as Schwarzenegger invades every media outlet while promoting his new memoir of a life of self-aggrandizement, I must admit it makes me queasy. It's not that I despise Schwarzenegger or begrudge him his schtick of endless self promotion for no purpose other than to make money and gratify himself.

It's galling because I went along with the charade without ever invoking the words of the brave child in that Hans Christian Andersen story.

To paraphrase, the governor had no clothes.

Now, in the clear light of hindsight, it's so jarring to review Schwarzenegger's gubernatorial lowlights in a timeline on Read it and weep:

I dare you to name a legitimate Schwarzenegger achievement that is not attached to a caveat, a pratfall or the critical contributions of other people.

What was his governorship but an endless series of photo-ops and glitzy pronouncements, most often thwarted by other politicos?

As a journalist, I don't miss those events. They were often mere Kabuki, but there we were. Celebrity suspended disbelief.

As a lifelong Californian, experiencing Schwarzenegger the governor was like eating a big, greasy cheeseburger. It tasted good going down, but then you really wished you hadn't eaten it.

I know he has allies around Sacramento who would raise an objection to such a harsh assessment. There are many people in this town who made money off access to Schwarzenegger and continue to do so.

Sorry, but you have a vested interest. Besides, the harshest judgment of the Schwarzenegger years shouldn't fall on those pumped-up shoulders of his.

It should fall on us, the voters. We thought so little of our institutions in California that we elected a famous man to be governor for no other reason than he was famous, rich and popular.

A local legislator told me that he once asked Schwarzenegger what his primary goal was. "Getting things done," came the reply.

That's a slogan, not a core belief. It's what we bought in California – a bill of goods the former governor keeps selling.

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