Governor Girlie Man

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s self-parodic testosterone swagger is getting less and less amusing. Over the weekend, amid the usual “Terminator” allusions, he called the Democrats in the California Legislature “girlie men” for holding up his state budget. A tempting response would be, “Hey, it takes one to know one.”

As noted on this page Monday, the governor has shown little more courage than the Democrats in facing down the interest groups whose demands have left the state bankrupt in all but name. Sure, he has lit into the public-service unions. That would be pretty muscular if Schwarzenegger was a Democrat. For a Republican it is less impressive, especially because Schwarzenegger himself capitulated to the state prison guards union. In weeks of negotiation over bloated salaries and unlimited sick time, the governor got none of the concessions he promised.

For the record:

12:00 a.m. July 22, 2004 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday July 22, 2004 Home Edition California Part B Page 12 Editorial Pages Desk 0 inches; 23 words Type of Material: Correction
Gov. Schwarzenegger -- An editorial Tuesday on the governor’s name-calling omitted the second “n” from the first name of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).

If we’re measuring the actions of politicians on the macho-meter, the governor’s opponents have showed more guts than he has. Schwarzenegger’s “girlie men” talk is an attempt to intimidate them -- not with his brute strength, of course, but with his easy popularity. The Democrats are resisting. The proud owner of that easy popularity could use it to tell the citizens uncomfortable truths about who is to blame for the state’s fiscal condition. It’s those same citizens, too often unwilling to pay for good roads, clean water, superior schools, all the stuff that made California great. But he won’t do that. Too chicken?

Relative manliness is certainly a ridiculous way to evaluate political leaders. It would be ridiculous even if it weren’t insulting to all women, especially women in politics. But it is highly insulting not just to women but to Californians of both sexes who would prefer that the quality of their government not be measured hormonally. When the governor calls state legislators “girlie men,” is he suggesting that they are in some way too much like California’s powerful senators, Diane Feinstein and Barbara Boxer? What an accusation!


Yes, yes, Schwarzenegger was half-joking. And yes, jokes should be encouraged in public life, not crushed by the weight of literal-mindedness. The term “girlie men” comes from the famous “Saturday Night Live” parody of the governor in his former public role as a celebrity bodybuilder. If, by borrowing the catchphrase, Schwarzenegger was mocking himself, that would be charming. This was not charming.