Time to terminate the Terminator
California is on the verge of economic collapse. The Golden State was once the envy of America. Its prosperity and coastline beauty was a magnet for millions. Now, its government is broken; its major cities are infested with drugs, crime and massive illegal immigration; its economy is sclerotic; and businesses and middle-class households flee in record numbers.
The crisis is an indictment of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. The “Governator,” as he is known, promised to revive economic growth and job creation, slash taxes and regulations, and curb government spending and the power of the public-employee unions. The very opposite has happened. California’s budget has expanded 40 percent since his predecessor, former Gov. Gray Davis, held office. Income, car and sales taxes have risen.
Unemployment has sky-rocketed to 9.3 percent — the fourthhighest in the nation. Spending on public schools has soared, eating up half of the state’s budget (and doing very little to improve the dismal quality of education). The state faces record deficits. It no longer has the money to pay for tax refund checks. The crippling debt threatens to bankrupt the state.
Not too long ago, Mr. Schwarzenegger was being hailed as the future of the Republican Party. After his speech at the 2004 Republican National Convention, he was anointed by the mainstream media as the standard-bearer of the GOP’s liberal wing. He held the key to a new winning political formula: fiscal conservatism combined with social liberalism.
For years, Beltway pundits have urged Republicans to jettison Christian conservatives in favor of courting independents and suburban professionals. The Governator was their man: He is a pro-abortion, proenvironment, open-borders Republican. Yet, his failed leadership reveals the political and moral bankruptcy of Rockefeller Republicanism.
Mr. Schwarzenegger joins a long list of liberal Republicans feted by the media — Christine Todd Whitman, William Weld, George Pataki, Jim Jeffords. Today, it is Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe. They all have one thing in common: the inability to forge an enduring movement. This is because liberal Republicanism is an oxymoron; it is philosophically incoherent. Liberalism is a form of watered-down socialism, constantly expanding the state at the expense of the private sector. In theory, the GOP is the party of equality of opportunity, self-improvement and unfettered capitalism.
Fusing liberalism and Republicanism is like mixing oil and water. You can try it, and it may even work for awhile, but eventually the wet conservative-libertarian base will reject the greasy big-government film.
Moreover, as Mr. Schwarzenegger’s tenure demonstrates, liberal Republicans are not fiscally conservative. Their idea of fiscal responsibility is to increase taxes, not roll back government spending. Mrs. Collins and Mrs. Snowe — for all their talk about being “budget hawks” and hating deficits — voted for the most expensive boondoggle in U.S. history: the nearly $1 trillion stimulus package. This is on top of the bank bailouts, the housing bailouts and earlier stimulus bills. They are drowning the next generation in red ink. They are frauds masquerading as green-eyeshade Republicans.
At its core, liberal Republicanism is not so much an ideology as a cynical pose, an attempt to position oneself as a centrist by splitting the difference between right and left. It has no transcendent principles. It is guided only by self-interest and power. This is why it has no long-term shelf life. It cannot achieve the one thing needed for a successful movement: inspire supporters in mass numbers. It is a recipe for political stagnation and permanent minority status.
Rockefeller Republicanism is a form of surrender to the forces of cultural liberalism sweeping America. The media establishment may praise Mr. Schwarzenegger for his support of abortion rights, as well as other trendy issues like gay rights, stem-cell research and global warming. But if he can’t — or won’t — oppose liberal specialinterest groups on the cultural front, he will do the same thing on the economic front.
The public-employee unions, the trial lawyers, the environmentalists — all these major Democratic constituencies have derailed the Governator’s economic agenda. The result: California has become a basket case.
Mr. Schwarzenegger may still be personally popular. His old buddies in Hollywood may still back him. And the chattering classes may still seek to prop him up. But his brand of Republicanism is a road to nowhere; it is an albatross for the GOP — both in California and nationally. Republicans must wake up to this fact and do what they should have done a long time ago: terminate the Terminator.
Jeffrey T. Kuhner is a columnist at The Washington Times and president of the Edmund Burke Institute, a Washington think tank.