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Schwarzenegger's Post-Partisanship

By Ruben Navarrette

SAN DIEGO -- Things are goofy here in California. I mean, goofier than usual.

Republicans are afraid they've lost influence with the governor, which wouldn't be so strange if the governor wasn't also a Republican. What's even stranger is that -- in a true blue state such as California, where Democrats control the Legislature and most of the top offices in the executive branch -- Republicans haven't figured out that most people in the Golden State no longer care what they think, and this includes the chief executive from their own party.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was sworn in for a second term last week after coasting to re-election. Now Republicans are pleading with Schwarzenegger to pursue a more conservative agenda -- even if he has no chance of getting any of it through the Democratic-controlled Legislature. These are the folks who see the value in fighting the good fight, even if they go down swinging in the first round -- as they often do.

Instead, Schwarzenegger is fighting for a compassionate but controversial plan to provide health insurance for 6.5 million uninsured Californians, including illegal immigrants. He insists that, under the current system, the uninsured levy a hidden tax on everyone.

Faced with an otherwise gloomy future, the state GOP has one bright star -- Schwarzenegger -- and so, naturally, the instinct among Republican ideologues is to try to drag him into the darkness with the rest of their cohort.

Luckily, having beaten his Democratic opponent by 17 points, he is much too smart to fall for it. Just as you'd expect from someone who came to this country with empty pockets, worked hard, bought into the American Dream, and amassed a fortune of several hundred million dollars.

In a stirring inaugural address last week, Schwarzenegger made clear that he's his own man, and that he believes the future of American politics is right smack in the center.

"Centrist does not mean weak,'' he said. "It does not mean watered down or warmed over. It means well balanced and well grounded. The American people are instinctively centrist -- so should be our government.''

Schwarzenegger's brand of centrism means two things -- shunning the extremes in search of common-sense, middle-of-the-road solutions to difficult problems and reaching out across the political divide to incorporate the best ideas your opponents have to offer while giving them credit in the process.

We desperately need more of both, not just in California but all around the United States. If you want to know why our politics is broken in this country, this is the reason. We've reached the point where so much of the debate is all-or-nothing and dominated by the shrillest and most extreme voices, where people are afraid to acknowledge that the other side is even half right and where being a moderate is considered the equivalent of being squishy or indecisive.

Meanwhile, political parties aren't interested in results or solutions, as much as expanding their reach and enhancing their fundraising by taking potshots at the opposition -- even on those days when there is no real disagreement.

That doesn't make much sense, not when -- on abortion, gun control, stem cell research, immigration, the death penalty and a host of other issues -- most Americans have mixed feelings. And not when it's the case that no single politician or political party is right on every issue. Straight-ticket voting is a thing of the past, and the future lies in the kind of cafeteria politics that allows voters to pick and choose what they like from what the various parties have to offer, and discard the rest.

That's what Schwarzenegger is talking about. Still a relative novice at politics, he hasn't had time to learn bad habits that hamper most career politicians. In his inaugural speech, he spelled out a vision of "post-partisanship'' that searches out a "creative center ... that is not held captive of the left or the right or even the past.''

The California governor is onto something, and he knows it. He is even thinking about taking his centrist message on the road, say his aides. He might drop into New Hampshire and Iowa during the 2008 primaries to try to convince presidential candidates that the middle of the road is not a bad place to be.

Bravo for him. Who knows? Maybe he can convince a few of them to join him there. And our politics would be better off.

(c) 2007, The San Diego Union-Tribune

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