Whitman and Poizner Run Away From Arnold – But What Are They Running For?

Today’s LA Times explores the campaign tactics of Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner, who have been running against Arnold Schwarzenegger (even if in a veiled way). It’s not a particularly surprising development given the falling out the Yacht Party has had with their governor over the last few years. But what the article really shows us is that neither Whitman nor Poizner are offering Californians any kind of coherent vision for our state’s future.

By criticizing his painstakingly crafted budget, actively opposing several of his ballot measures and, more subtly, jabbing at his work habits and ego, Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner are striving to distance themselves from the unpopular Schwarzenegger and tap widespread GOP anger over the incumbent’s broken pledge not to raise taxes. It is, in the words of a strategist involved in the race, a competition to become “the anti-Arnold.”

It is also an effort to persuade voters — starting with Republicans — to trust a pair of candidates with backgrounds similar to Schwarzenegger, who are making some of the same promises he did when he first ran for governor 5 1/2 years ago.

This is a pretty apt description of the two candidates – folks that look and sound a lot like Arnold (well, without the Austrian accent) who nevertheless think they can convince voters that the problem was Arnold himself and not the policies he supported.

Poizner and Whitman have yet to offer concrete solutions for closing the state’s budget gap, which has grown by several billion dollars since lawmakers and the governor narrowly reached their agreement. They speak in broad generalities about running California like a business, and they fiercely oppose higher taxes — echoing positions that Schwarzenegger took during the recall campaign. Then, he said California’s fiscal ills could be cured with stringent auditing and a willingness to “blow up the boxes” of state government.

In short, Whitman and Poizner are both planning to run the exact same campaign as Arnold did back in 2003. It’s much like John McCain’s campaign strategy, which was to embrace Bush’s entire agenda but try and convince a skeptical public that the problem was Bush himself and not his policies.

Barack Obama did a pretty good job of convincing Americans that the problem with the last 8 years wasn’t Bush but the policies he embraced. But Obama did that partly because he passed himself off as a candidate offering a fundamentally different vision for America than conservatives like Bush and McCain offered. (Whether Obama will deliver on this remains to be seen.)

Democratic gubernatorial candidates will need to do the same in 2010 if they are to beat either Whitman or Poizner. It doesn’t help when people like Jerry Brown echo Republican talking points about taxes and jobs. Californians have tried it the Republicans’ way for the last 30 years – cutting taxes, spending, and regulation and yet sustained and shared prosperity remains more elusive now than in 1978 when this ugly journey began.

It should not be difficult to beat Whitman and Poizner. They aren’t offering new policies or ideas because they believe the policies of the last 30 years are inherently good and should be preserved. The way you beat that is to point out the obvious and say “no, those policies have failed; time to try something new.”

What would that something new look like? As I argued last week it should emphasize sustainability and security, ensuring that basic needs can be met outside the financial markets and that we have robust and effective government services to meet the multifaceted 21st century crisis and to provide shared prosperity.

All of that requires junking the policies and the frames of the last 30 years – and pursuing a restoration of the taxes on the wealthy and on corporations would be a damn good place to start. Unfortunately California Democrats have been as guilty as anyone of being too close to big business, especially to their money, and as a result have become closely tied to the neoliberal policies of the last 30 years, unwilling to offer an alternative even if they believed in one (and many Dems, like Bill Lockyer, do not).

At some point you might imagine that Democrats would realize, as Barack Obama did, that getting fat checks from big business isn’t actually that valuable if it consigns Democrats to an eternal second place. The Democratic candidate for governor who realizes that Obama’s organizing model freed him from dependence on corporate cash – and therefore allowed him to articulate a newer vision for America and thus win the election – will be the Democratic candidate with the best chance at taking the oath of office in January 2011.

5 thoughts on “Whitman and Poizner Run Away From Arnold – But What Are They Running For?”

  1. ….Governor ‘Moonbeam’ Jerry Brown. I sez that this miserable state need a shot of that Old Time Hippy Religion.

    And fer you Xers and Mills and Y-Types the reason we have windmills in Altamont pass is a guy named….


    It’s gotta be Jerry, Jerry, Jerry!

    Newsome doan got it.

  2. I mean this charade that Arnold is some conservative, right-winger who destroyed California borders on the absurd.

    Arnold is of no party at all and that’s why Republicans running for the nomination either dismiss him or ignore him. His influence on a GOP Primary is minimal and his star quality outside the state has diminished greatly to a point of almost complete irrevelance.

    Poizner and Whitman will run as “center right” Republicans while Brown, Villaraigosa and Newsom will run as ubabashed, unlectable liberals.

    In fact Moonbeam will be the only one of the three that will try to run from the center (if one exists in Democratic politics) while Antonio and Gavin will smile away into political oblivion.

    Arnold is about as Republican as Michael Bloomberg. Both are ego maniacs who have no where to go politically, so they try to stay relevant by cooperating with Obama.

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