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Golden visions

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's inaugural address was inspiring. This week he'll need to be more than that.

January 08, 2007

IT WAS ALL SHOWBIZ and politics, with a star-studded stage and an auditorium echoing with the corny cliches of "Fanfare for the Common Man" and the "Hallelujah Chorus." Then Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger began to speak, and everything changed.

The governor's inaugural address Friday was one of the best in state history, infused with California pride and optimism, and was the most eloquent speech of his career. It was also one of the easiest -- all broad strokes and primary colors, with few particulars weighing down its rhetoric. Starting today, things are going to be a lot harder.

Schwarzenegger used his inaugural address to set a course for what he called the "nation-state" of California: a place that sets the pace for the rest of the country not just in politics but in culture, science and economics. The governor's road to this new commonwealth, rooted in decades of California's bipartisan growth, is what he terms "post-partisanship." The state's independent voters are on track to outnumber Democrats and Republicans, he noted, and the thrust of his speech seemed to be that he was their man. He didn't quite jettison his Republican affiliation, but neither did he mention it. Stick to one party's proposals, he said, and you miss half the good ideas.

Giving a nod to historian Kevin Starr, he declared there must be a Party of California, "beyond ideology and one to which all of us belong."

"What a prosperous, peaceful, golden state in which we live and work and raise our families," he said. "We should never forget the joys and blessings of being Californians." Around the world, he said, people "ache to have what we so often take for granted."

Even discounting for California egocentrism -- Los Angeles, after all, is the most Californian of cities -- these are stirring words. Now the governor must give them substance.

Today he is to deliver an address on healthcare, unveiling a proposal to extend medical care and insurance coverage to many, perhaps most, of the state's 6.5 million uninsured. It's the kind of speech that can't rest on lofty calls to work together. It must delve into the details of a thorny and politically divisive issue.

On Tuesday, he is scheduled to lay out the rest of his agenda in his State of the State speech. Republicans and Democrats may find ample opportunity to lock horns over various plans to close the budget deficit, upgrade schools, redraw district lines and rebuild roads and ports. And later in the week comes Schwarzenegger's first crack at the budget, the state's most important policy document. All the pleas for bipartisanship won't paper over deep financial problems and a continuing disagreement about how to rectify them.

When the dust settles, elected officials from both parties, along with interest groups, policymakers and political thinkers, will have a chance to mull the governor's proposals. By then it will be clear whether his aspirations will carry California into the future -- or whether his address was just a remarkable speech about what could have been.

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