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ORANGE COUNTY COMMENTARY

For Our Next Governor, No Pain Means No Gain

Bodybuilding's lessons can apply to turning California around.

November 16, 2003|John J. Pitney Jr.

Dear Gov.-elect Schwarzenegger:

Almost exactly one year ago, I predicted on this page that you would make a strong candidate for governor ("Ready for the Next Actor-Governor?" Nov. 10, 2002). Because the article came out long before the recall even started, I'd love to take credit for clairvoyance.

But one lucky forecast does not make a seer. Once the recall effort was underway, I wrote an article suggesting that Republicans might regret a victory ("Worst Punishment for Davis? Just Let Him Stay in Office," May 25). My reasoning was that the state's near-term problems would be so bad that any new governor would become unpopular.

For California's sake, I hope that you prove me wrong. And if you want pointers on how to do so, remember your former career as a bodybuilder. Orange County has plenty of gyms and fitness centers that can teach us a lot about how to overcome tough problems. After all, another term for weightlifting is "resistance training."

Patience is the first lesson. Bodybuilding requires more patience than just about any other sport. As you remember from your Austrian youth, it can take years of hard effort to get results. And progress comes gradually, almost imperceptibly.

It is easy to yield to discouragement. In your book, "Arnold: The Education of a Bodybuilder," you recalled early advice from a doctor: "It's not your body, Arnold. Your body can't change that much from one day to the next. It's in your mind .... On the bad days you will need someone to help you get going."

Governing is like that. You might be able to do a few things quickly, such as scrapping the increase in the car tax. It will take much longer, however, to make real headway on bigger matters, such as improving the state's business climate. Do not lose heart if success comes slowly. Be ready for bad days. Make sure that you have people around you who maintain the right mix of realism and optimism.

The second lesson follows from the first. As your character put it in "Stay Hungry," one of your first and best movies: "You can't grow without burning." Bodybuilding involves pain. Some would-be he-men go for shortcuts such as surgical chest implants that give the illusion of well-developed pecs. But fake muscle is no substitute for the real thing.

Much the same is true of public policy. Quick fixes are as dubious as they are tempting. For instance, there is talk of handling the state's budget problems simply by getting loans. Borrowing may have to be part of a budget package, but a debt-only solution is just a fiscal chest implant. Though it may look good for a short time, it will cost money and create subsequent problems.

The third lesson is the flip-side of the second. As you wrote in the Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding, one has to distinguish ordinary pains from signs of injury. In pushing their limits, bodybuilders may go too far and do themselves harm that can take months to heal.

Politicians must be alert to similar problems. When you make policy decisions, people in the other party will accuse you of excess while some in your own party will complain of timidity. Such griping is comparable to the normal aches of weightlifting. At the same time, you must watch for signs that normal dissatisfaction is turning into something more dangerous. Your predecessor was too late in grasping the depth of his Republican opposition and the shallowness of his Democratic support.

So just as you studied yourself in the mirror during your years of pumping iron, you must keep a eye on the political landscape. Prowl the state, talking to friends, adversaries and ordinary voters. That will take effort. But whether through town-hall meetings or other scheduled events, you need to keep in touch.

In my 2002 article, I quoted a talk at Chapman University where you used your tagline "I'll be back." That's good advice. If you keep coming back to Orange County and other places throughout the state, you could succeed as governor and prove me wrong about the recall's aftermath.

John J. Pitney Jr. is professor of government at Claremont McKenna College and author of "The Art of Political Warfare."

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