Schwarzenegger’s ‘Post-Partisanship’ Is Model for D.C.

Posted February 28, 2007 at 5:05pm

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — It used to be said that every American social, political and fashion trend started in California. Let’s hope that’s true again with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s concept of “post-partisanship.” [IMGCAP(1)]

The idea doesn’t have to sweep the nation like Hula-Hoops or counter-culturalism. It just has to take hold in Washington, D.C.

As Schwarzenegger declared in his second inaugural address on Jan. 5, “we have the opportunity to move past partisanship, past bi-partisanship to post-partisanship.

“Post-partisanship is not simply Republicans and Democrats each bringing their proposals to the table and working out differences.

“[It] is Republicans and Democrats actively giving birth to new ideas together. I believe it would promote a new centrism and a new trust in our political system,” he said.

Having stopped calling Democratic legislators “girlie men” and having dramatically turned around his political fortunes after an epic ballot-initiative defeat in 2005, Schwarzenegger was triumphantly re-elected in 2006 with nearly 60 percent of the vote.

In this bright-blue state, he carried 93 percent of the Republican vote, 22 percent of the Democratic and 59 percent of the independent vote against liberal former state Treasurer Phil Angelides.

Now, Schwarzenegger is in the process of trying to put post-partisanship to work to achieve environmental cleanup, road and prison construction — and, most creatively, a mandatory health insurance plan to cover all Californians, including illegal immigrants.

The effort and the concept behind it — shared responsibility on the part of individuals, employers, health providers and government — is one that could achieve a consensus here.

But beyond that, whether it’s called post-partisanship or just old-fashioned bipartisanship, what Schwarzenegger is selling philosophically is what every poll indicates the public wants — an end to partisan combat and attention to problem solving.

In fact, there is evidence that some people in Washington have caught the mood. Last week, 10 Senators — five of each party, including some pretty conservative Republicans — called on President Bush to begin working on health care reform that would “ensure that all Americans have affordable, quality private health coverage.”

The organizer of the letter was Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), author of another mandatory insurance plan that is actually more radical than Schwarzenegger’s.

Wyden proposes to detach health coverage from private employment and make individuals responsible for buying their own insurance, with tax breaks from the government and subsidies for low-income persons.

Bush administration officials say they are encouraged by some aspects of the plan — especially tax reform similarities to Bush’s own proposal — and they were impressed by the 10 Senators’ letter, especially participation by conservative Republicans Jim DeMint (S.C.), Bob Bennett (Utah), Trent Lott (Miss.), Mike Crapo (Idaho) and John Thune (S.D.).

However, Wyden told me in an interview that the administration is balking at the idea of universal coverage. He cited a Bush speech last week in Tennessee, in which the president said “We need to make sure that … quality care is given to as many Americans as possible.”

“That will not be acceptable to Senate Democrats,” Wyden said. “You’ve got to be for covering everybody because if you don’t cover everybody, you will constantly have cost-shifting,” whereby providers charge those who have insurance to cover the costs of treating those who don’t.

Wyden’s demand that Bush publicly support universal coverage is akin to some of his colleagues’ requirement that he agree to consider raising taxes as a prelude to negotiations about America’s long-term fiscal woes. Everybody’s got a precondition for talks, so there are no talks.

On Monday, Schwarzenegger appeared at the National Press Club to scold Washington politicians for failing to follow his example.

He confessed that “in 2003, I contributed to the polarization. I tried to push through some initiatives the wrong way — us-versus-them. I’m not a person to get all introspective about my failures, but I do know when something doesn’t work. Dividing people does not work.”

“Division,” he said, “is what Washington has come to represent.” After an initial flurry of bipartisan talk after the 2006 elections, he said, “It doesn’t look as though anything has changed here in Washington.”

“All this energy spent on bitterness, all this effort spent on maneuvering — imagine if that same energy were put into working together to build a consensus. The wings of each party say, ‘but we have our principles!’ Why is being principled reserved for extremists?

“The left and right don’t have a monopoly on conscience. We should not let them get away with that. You can be centrist and be principled. … What is more principled than giving up some part of your position to advance the greater good of the people?”

Schwarzenegger advised Bush to adapt a version of his cigar-smoking tent here — a venue for post-partisan negotiation.

It’s sad that the Constitution prevents the Austrian-born Schwarzenegger from running for president. But we’d all be better off if politicians in Washington would follow his lead. And, as the California election returns last year indicate, so would they.