Tempus fugit for us all, including actor Arnold Schwarzenegger who ten years ago this week was elected governor of California by an electorate angry over politics as usual. People flocked to shopping malls to hear his German—he was Austrian–accent and “ideas” for “blowing up the boxes of government.” But he never delivered on his promised top to bottom overhaul of California’s state bureaucracy.
One reason he fell short is that there was no endgame—something needed when you invade a foreign land, or play winning chess. What did people expect to see when these so-called boxes of government, whatever they were, disappeared in the shredder? Here are some possible answers:
o Rows of empty state-owned buildings, vacated by employees no longer needed.
o Letters from the Franchise Tax Board, California’s tax collection agency, with giant ZEROs under the taxes due column.
o Public schools jammed with students wanting to stay after the final bell to learn more.
o Half-empty state prisons and mental institutions.
o A two-week fire season.
o Water, water, everywhere.
“Blowing up the boxes” was a headline grabbing concept without reality delivered superbly by a veteran actor—it was politics and despite the absence of any explosion, the business of issuing driver’s licenses, fighting fires and incarcerating felons went on.
In California the state constitution requires that the budget be balanced—there is no moving debt ceiling as is the case in the federal treasury. Blowing up the boxes, if that is the aim of those leading the shutdown movement at the federal level could, if carried to the extreme, stop social security payments, VA benefit payments, and other entitlements and that, in effect, might kill some people who need every nickel possible from the government to get by.
I was entertained by Arnold’s blowing up the boxes routine, but the federal act isn’t funny, it’s tragic.
When our country with all the advantages can’t act reasonably, it is damning proof that our democracy is fraying badly. The sin of disparity–the rich get richer, etc.—is on us.