Commentary: Schwarzenegger was a bad match for California

Sacramento Bee columnist Marcos Breton
Sacramento Bee columnist Marcos Breton The Sacramento Bee

It was sad to learn that former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver have separated after 25 years of marriage.

Very sad.

While the irreconcilable differences of any couple should always remain private, the public personas of these very public people are fair game given the preening nature of Schwarzenegger's gubernatorial tenure.

You never want to see families split up, but this breakup raises a question with implications beyond one family:

Was it worth it for Schwarzenegger to be governor of California in the first place?

One can imagine that being a highly sensitive topic in that divided house, particularly in the wake of Monday's news.

But for those of us outside the rarefied air of celebrity, the answer is clear: no way.

My city and region are worse off than when Schwarzenegger famously, or infamously, took office in 2003. The Capitol dome seems more tarnished.

This isn't a slap at the GOP because the GOP caucus doesn't much love Arnold either.

While it was cool for a time to see Schwarzenegger's armada of SUVs pull up to Zócalo or Esquire Grill – and the governor always was genial when he visited The Bee – there isn't much more positive to be said.

History judges governors, and there are initiatives Schwarzenegger supported that deserve the fullness of time for final judgment.

But just as the beaming pictures of Arnold and Maria look different to us today, we also must re-examine the emotions that drew us to them in the first place.

We willingly chose celebrity over capability. We chose slogans over beliefs; being photogenic over experience; being opportunistic over smarts.

If we lay that all on Schwarzenegger, we let ourselves off the hook. Nobody was hoodwinked. Every day, individuals, small businesses, corporations and governments are run off the rails by people with their eyes open.

No matter the context, all it takes is charisma and ambition to meet the right support system for a bad idea to be mistaken for a good one and for a lot of damage to be done with the help of people who follow along out of self-interest.

Doesn't that sound like the Age of Arnold?

Maria always seemed to reluctantly follow along. She came from a family legacy built on helping the poor while his programs slashed the social safety net.

Well-heeled people in their sphere did great. Working people got trashed.

All that's left now are the pretty pictures of arms held high in triumph amid the confetti. The experience seemed to take a toll on their family. It definitely took a toll on California.

Careful what you wish for.

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