The Mud Did Not Stick
by Fred E. Foldvary, Senior Editor
In the last days of the California recall campaign, the Democrats opposed to Arnold Schwarzenegger tried to smear him with mud. They dug out an old script where he allegedly admired the abilities, but not the ideology or policy, of the Fuhrer. Some women claimed that the candidate had done some nasty things. However true such stories may be, their use for campaigning is negative. It is the common technique of saying how bad the opponent is, hoping that voters will, as usual, choose the lesser evil.
Candidates for government offices usually campaign by offering empty promises and maligning their opponents. Negative ads usually work, because people believe them, or think there may be some truth in them. The recalled governor had practiced negative campaigning against one of the Republican candidates in the primary election, which defeated him, leaving a weak candidate who easily lost to the governor.
The Democrats thought that if they hurled mud at Schwarzenegger, painting him as a Nazi who abuses women, people would vote against the recall. But a remarkable thing happened. The mud did not stick. The vote for Arnold was greater even than the polls had indicated before.
The mud slinging may have backfired, causing undecided voters to switch to voting for the recall and for the Austrian. The voters did not fall for the Nazi story. Indeed, I read that when Arnold was a youth in Austria, he had actively opposed neo-Nazis. Schwarzenegger admitted that he had acted badly towards some women, and said he was deeply sorry. His wife stood by him and supported him in his campaign. This took the sting out of the accusations.
But the main thing was that California voters are not as naive as the Democrats think. Previous negative campaigns have made California voters a bit more sophisticated. They recognized the accusations as dirty politics, even if the stories were true. The main topic for the elections was the dismal state of the California budget and the performance of the incumbent governor.
Californians are well aware that State officials have received huge sums of money from special interests, who get favors in return. They know that the current State budget pushes debts to next year, and has not really solved the deficit problem. The incumbent governor signed a law enabling illegal aliens to get driver's licenses without an adequate background check. Pandering to special interests did not work this time.
The newcomer to government offers California a fresh start. Arnold offers hope. Californians are tired of grey skies. We want yellow sunshine and blue skies again. Skeptics scoff that Mr. S. has no government experience, and it is true that he offered no detail plan. But no candidate offered a sound plan. The Green candidate confused voters by saying that the rich pay a lower rate of tax, when everybody knows that California has a graduated income tax. He missed an opportunity to be a magnificent alternative who proposed radical remedies, such as scrapping the income and sales taxes and replacing them with revenues from land rent and pollution taxes. The "progressives" instead offered class warfare, which did not sell well.
Remarkably, Arnold's message was that high taxes and excessive regulations are driving business away, and this was a winner! Unlike the tired old reactionary Republicans of California, Arnold is OK with equal rights for homosexuals and the right to abortion. Arnold Schwarzenegger offered the rare combination of being liberal on social issues and in favor of more economic freedom. This is as close to a libertarian governor as the U.S. has ever gotten.
Schwarzenegger has the fame, charisma, and optimism to make major changes and restore California to greatness. He is surrounding himself with a high-caliber circle of advisors and policy makers. He will bring reform to a popular vote if the legislature balks, which gives him leverage. He seeks bipartisan harmony. I think the outcome of the California recall was the best one possible. It is a thrilling and refreshing change. For now, I am optimistic.
-- Fred Foldvary
Copyright 2003 by Fred E. Foldvary. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system, without giving full credit to Fred Foldvary and The Progress Report.
Also see Foldvary's earlier editorials
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