29 April 2014

AUSTIN -- One problem I have with Arnold Schwarzenegger is that
he looks like a condom stuffed with walnuts. I realize that is superficial,
shallow and unbecoming to a semi-serious-minded liberal like myself, but
there it is. The other is that he doesn't know what he's talking about when
it comes to public policy.

            And therein lies our thesis for the day: Politics as showbiz
versus what actually happens to real people's lives as a result of stupid
public policies. When 200,000 poor children get knocked off a federal health
insurance program because a state decides it can't afford the one-fifth
co-pay, what happens? In fact, children rarely die, because when they are
finally horribly ill and burning up with fever, their parents take them to
an emergency room, where they receive excellent care at a very high cost to
the rest of us. In the meantime, their teeth aren't attended, and their
hearing and eyesight are never checked. As a result, many of them try to
function in school with tooth pain or without being able to see or hear
clearly. Those little kids aren't celebrities, but they're just as real as
Arnold Schwarzenegger, they have bangs and bright eyes and dreams.

            When a state does something really dumb, like pass a
three-strikes law, people wind up doing life for minor crimes -- so minor
it's mind-boggling -- theft of a sandwich, stole a mop. What they usually
need is treatment for alcoholism or addiction so they can become productive
members of society. Instead, they rot behind bars at a cost to the taxpayers
of $40,000 a year per head, draining the state of resources to improve the
schools and teach all those bright little ones who would take California
into the next generation of high tech.

            Arnold Schwarzenegger's top adviser is, of all people, former
California governor Pete Wilson, the man who caused the mess Gray Davis got
the blame for. "Blackout Pete" is the guy who made utility deregulation the
centerpiece of his administration. Wilson said deregulation would mean lower
prices, a new age of better, cheaper, more reliable energy. The magic of the
marketplace would inevitably lead to lower prices. You can look it up.

             Instead, deregulation opened the market to gaming by crooked
enterprises like Enron (how could they resist?), and they milked $45 billion
out of California's economy before the Bush administration finally, finally,
at long, long last allowed the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to slap
on price controls.

            During those rolling blackouts, people's ventilators went out,
dialysis machines stopped, old people who needed air conditioning were left
to swelter and people's lives were at stake. This is not showbiz. You can't
fix it with a quick script change.

            When the Republicans in Congress, led by the increasingly
out-of-control Tom DeLay, announced they would not vote for money to fix the
electric grid because (gasp! shudder!) it is a Democratic bill, he did not increase the odds of drilling in the Alaskan Wildlife
Refuge (which has nothing to do with blackouts), he merely insured there
will be more blackouts. While politicians play dumb politician games, real
people suffer. Real people's lives are changed, and not for the better.

            This sort of "Oh, hell, anybody can run the country, you don't
have to know anything" attitude is beyond ludicrous.
I'm sorry, but Jesse Ventura, whom I thoroughly enjoy as a personality, was
a disaster as governor of Minnesota. A few elementary basics, like
understanding the school aid formula, having some idea how to set fair
insurance rates, what home health care providers need and a few hundred
other subjects are a minimum requirement. Sure, you can surround some
attractive political personality with top-notch aides, experts, advisers and
bureaucrats, and many a dim bulb in executive office has been pulled through
by just such a team. But it helps, honest, if you have a leader who has
knowledge, understanding and vision. I grant you, they're in short supply,
but "Hasta la vista, baby" doesn't sound that good when people's lives are
on the line.

            I realize Gray Davis was supposed to be Mr. Experience, Mr.
Detail -- and didn't he make a fine mess out of things? Yes, he did. He
panicked during the energy crisis (brought about by Wilson), groveled at the
feet of Southern California Edison (which wrote the electricity de-reg bill
in California), begged for power to keep lights on and overpaid billions for
it. Too true. But use your noggin, is that really an argument in favor of
putting somebody who knows nothing in charge?

            As far as I know, Mr. Schwarzenegger is as qualified as any
other citizen to run for public office. So why doesn't he start with the
school board or the country commissioner's office and learn something about
what is involved first?

            To find out more about Molly Ivins and read features by other
Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web
page at www.creators.com.