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SCHWARZENEGGER MEMOIR: TOTAL LET DOWN
By Daniel Weintraub, email@example.com
Weintraub covered Arnold Schwarzenegger's election in 2003 and his seven years as governor as a columnist for the Sacramento Bee and is the author of Party of One, Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Rise of the Independent Voter. He is now editor of www.healthycal.org.
Perhaps Arnold Schwarzenegger can be forgiven for failing, in his newly published autobiography, to provide fresh details about his affair with a housekeeper that led to the birth of an illegitimate son. Few people would want to drag themselves or their families through that kind of public disclosure.
No such logic, however, can explain Schwarzenegger's skimpy treatment of his seven years as governor, a fascinating time in California history that the former chief executive manages to make sound as if he were mayor of Lake Wobegon.
Schwarzenegger employed ghostwriter Peter Petre to help him write the book, "Total Recall." But at times it's almost as if Petre wrote the story without the help of its subject.
Schwarzenegger's years as governor take up less than 100 pages in this 646-page tome, and those pages read like a glorified clip-job, a once-over-lightly treatment that will seem like yesterday's news for anyone who followed Schwarzenegger's career in Sacramento.
Most of the familiar signposts are there - the historic recall election in 2003, his battle with Democrats over the deficit in his first weeks as governor, workers compensation reform, his failed ballot initiatives, global warming, infrastructure, his reelection campaign, health reform, etc.
The problem is that each of these episodes gets only a couple of paragraphs in the book, a page or two at most, and Schwarzenegger adds precious few inside details to the extensive public accounting already on the record. Not only does he fail to give us very many compelling stories about his fellow politicians inside the Capitol, he doesn't even paint a very good picture of his own thoughts and emotions as he wrestled with a Democratic Legislature and a Republican caucus that was at turns his ally and enemy.
Schwarzenegger barely mentions the infamous infighting among his staff, and his treatment of Maria Shriver's role in the governor's office is best described as antiseptic. Her character hovers on the edge of the action all the time, but he never writes directly about how she influenced him on policy, personnel or politics, other than to acknowledge something that was already widely known: She helped him shape his campaign staff during the recall election and again when he ran for a second term in 2006.
He admits that he tried to do too much, too quickly when he endorsed four ballot measures in a special election in 2005, only to see all four go down in flames. But Schwarzenegger conceded as much shortly after the election. What he could have told us in the book, but didn't, was how he came to select the reforms he proposed and why the measures, including one on pensions that he withdrew, were so poorly written.
He tells the story of his enactment of AB 32, the ground-breaking law to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. But he doesn't bother to reveal the give and take between him and the Democrats that led to the deal, especially how he persuaded the Democrats to agree to market-based regulation known as "cap and trade" and a provision allowing a governor to suspend the law if he determines it is harming the state's economy.
Schwarzenegger, of course, discusses his 2006 reelection and the deals he made with Democrats that made him look effective, helping him recover from his special election shellacking the year before. But he never addresses the question so many insiders had at the time: were the Democratic leaders in the Legislature making Schwarzenegger look good because they didn't like his Democratic opponent, Phil Angelides, and didn't want to play second-fiddle to him as they would have if a Democrat won the governor's office?
Schwarzenegger tells the story of his failed attempt at health reform in 2007, and, in a rare revelation, says that his most senior aides urged him not to take on the issue. But he never addresses the crucial opposition from the California Medical Association that helped tank the bill and only mentions in passing the feud between Democratic leaders Don Perata and Fabian Nunez that ultimately led to its demise. Schwarzenegger had a front-row seat to witness that dysfunction yet he doesn't offer a single anecdote to help us understand the depth of it.
Schwarzenegger spent most of his time as governor at war with the public employee unions - foreshadowing recent events in Wisconsin and elsewhere. But he skims along the surface of this blood feud, offering headlines but few stories. He doesn't even bother to delve into the intriguing transformation of his longtime friend and adviser, Democrat Bonnie Reiss, who was repulsed by the unions' tactics and stunned by the way Democratic lawmakers seemed to take their marching orders from them.
These are the kinds of details that could have brought the narrative to life. They would have made the book more than just a scorecard of Schwarzenegger's wins and losses and instead offered insight into what it was really like for a world-famous body builder and actor to come face to face with the entrenched politicians, lobbyists and interest groups that run the Capitol of the nation's largest state.
I could do without the lurid details of Schwarzenegger's personal life. But I expected his story to reveal the unvarnished facts about his time as governor. It didn't, and that's disappointing.