Editorial: The governor’s choice of ‘centrisms’ 

Appearing at his second inauguration on crutches, which no one should mistake as a metaphor for the state of his office, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appealed eloquently Friday to the centrist sentiments of Californians. Indeed, the strenuous willpower required to recover in therapy from a broken femur the governor possesses in abundance. It will take such strength to herd fractious legislators back to the political center.

"Centrist does not mean weak," the governor insisted in his inaugural address. "It does not mean watered down or watered over. It means well-balanced and well-grounded. The American people are instinctively centrist … so should be our government."

This is fine rhetoric, crafted as it was by former Reagan speechwriter Landon Parvin, and it may slake the thirst of Californians who see political infighting as drying up the legislative lubricants necessary to perform business in Sacramento. It is, of course, not exactly correct, for centrism, in recent history, actually has betokened all those things: indecisiveness, thoughtless conformity, drift, the loss of a moral compass.

The governor undertook the admirable task of redefining centrism as a civil and constructive openness to ideas. If there is an artistic analog to the governor’s political wisdom, it is the insightful quip — was it T.S. Eliot’s? — thatgenius is "centric and not eccentric."

In other words, the great and most resonant productions tap into wide collective sensibilities, not really found in the fringes of self-advertised "rebellion," shaping them more narrowly into creations prized and inspiring. Politics is more art than science, and we eagerly await those sparks of creativity the governor promises to fan into the public discourse.

For all his recent shifts in philosophical posture, the governor will serve us best if he remains true to his long-espoused beliefs in free minds and free markets, which provide the mainspring of human progress. He has felt it incumbent on his administration to adopt "green" initiatives, for example, and to push for universal health care.

Gov. Schwarzenegger has only the next four years, barring a future position in Washington, to forge a political legacy. If in the name of these initiatives he leaves an overbearingly coercive government, he will have failed us. That is why, even as he coaxes and cajoles and compromises, he must find the uncommon strength to build a greener and healthier state on market principles.

"Middle of the road policy," the great 20th century economist Ludwig von Mises once explained in a powerful essay, "leads to socialism." That is because the economic dislocations caused by one political intervention furnish pretexts for even greater, clumsier interventions.

Arnold Schwarzenegger now must distinguish between the two centrisms, opting for the creative one.

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Staff Report

Staff Report

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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