Trying not to recall Schwarzenegger’s legacy 

Last weekend, I watched one of my favorite movies, “Total Recall,” a sci-fi flick based on a Philip K. Dick novel and starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. Is Schwarzenegger’s character an intergalactic double agent who saves the mutants on Mars from the evil plans of a nasty profiteer or is he a lowly construction worker who merely is enjoying a virtual vacation thanks to the implanted memories from a company named Rekall Inc.?

The movie’s brilliance comes from our not knowing even through the final scene whether this is real or a dream. Shortly after my latest viewing of it, the real Schwarzenegger was in the news for having fathered a child with a housekeeper who worked at the Schwarzenegger compound for 20 years. Throughout “Total Recall,” we wonder whether it’s real or fake. That’s part of the fun in watching it again — looking for clues between the fight scenes and weird looks of the mutants. But Californians need to be honest with ourselves about Schwarzenegger. We all knew — or should have known — that he was a fake from the beginning. Republicans in particular should have realized that his commitment to free-market principles was never deep.

The first time I met him he came into the Orange County Register editorial board to pitch Proposition 49, which provides government funds for before- and after-school programs “providing tutoring, homework assistance, and educational enrichment.” No real conservative would hatch such a plan. There’s nothing wrong with after-school tutoring, of course, but a conservative approach would seek to raise private funds to achieve the same goal.

I heard Schwarzenegger several times and he always gave his standard stump speech that quoted Milton Friedman, one of the stalwarts of the free-market movement. He echoed Friedman’s views but never lived up to them. He never tried very hard either. He never challenged the nature or size of the state’s government. He mainly argued that the government needed to have enough money to afford all the wonderful programs it provided. Schwarzenegger tried a few modest conservative reforms on the ballot in 2005, didn’t fight very hard for them, got beaten badly, then made an effortless shift from right to left. He basically apologized and spent the rest of his career governing like a mainstream liberal.

The penultimate scandal from Arnold was his commutation of the prison sentence for former Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez’s son, Esteban, who stabbed a man at a party in San Diego while his fellow thug killed another young man during the same brawl. Schwarzenegger didn’t do this out of any apparent sense of justice — but out of loyalty to his friend. After meeting with him in those heady recall days, I predicted that Schwarzenegger would leave a mark on the state, that he would be a major figure that epitomized the California Dream. I was so wrong.

California has the most natural advantages of any other and is a magnet for intelligent, creative and entrepreneurial people from around the globe. Yet the state government’s policies are quashing these advantages. But shame on us for waiting for some political savior to come along and fix our problems.

Arnold has secured his legacy, and it’s not a good one. It’s time for the people to roll up their sleeves, save our state and create our own legacy.

Steven Greenhut is editor of; write to him at

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