Bipartisan Benedict Arnold

JOHN ZIEGLER hosts a weeknight talk show on KFI-AM (640) and is author of "The Death of Free Speech: How Our Broken National Dialogue Has Killed the Truth and Divided America."

OF ALL THE buzzwords in politics that have taken on a life of their own, “bipartisanship” is, without a doubt, the most overrated and misunderstood.

A spot-on example of the absurd “bipartisan” folly transpired this week at a USC-sponsored conference dramatically titled “Ceasefire! Bridging the Political Divide.” Speakers included a long list of prominent liberals from the world of politics and media, including former California Gov. Gray Davis, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, columnist and former Times editorial page editor Michael Kinsley, MSNBC analyst Lawrence O’Donnell and NPR correspondent Juan Williams. The liberal credentials of this crowd were beyond question, and trying to claim that any of them have fostered bipartisanship would be beyond a stretch.

The “other side” of the political divide was represented — if you could call it that — by this team: Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who hasn’t acted remotely like a Republican in at least two years; New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who ironically (or perhaps appropriately) left the Republican Party literally moments after speaking at the conference; and Matthew Dowd, a former Bush advisor who endeared himself to the liberal establishment by leveling extreme criticism at the president.

The supposed point of the conference was to call for a true political “Ceasefire!” But it was obvious from the start that only the conservative side was supposed to lay down its weapons. The real definition of bipartisanship is clear: conservatives surrender.

Schwarzenegger in particular has as much credibility talking about bipartisanship as Paris Hilton does urging the public to pay more attention to the soldiers in Iraq.

No one has benefited more from the perception that he is acting in a bipartisan (or, as he likes to say, post-partisan) fashion than our governor. In nearly every speech, he boldly brags about how he has “brought Democrats and Republicans together to solve the problems of California.” This boast — just the bipartisan part of it, forget the solving problems part — is a bald-faced lie, and yet no one in the pathetic press corps ever questions him about it.

In the last two years, not one major policy initiative that Schwarzenegger has signed into law could be considered remotely bipartisan. The anti-global warming bill, for instance, was supported by exactly one Republican in the entire statehouse. None supported the domestic-partner joint tax return. Or the massive prescription drug discount program. On the minimum wage, “Benedict Arnold” actually vetoed a less liberal bill in the past, then did a dramatic flip-flop.

Only the governor’s workers compensation reform package from 2004, his first year in office, comes close to qualifying for his absurd bipartisan-support assertion.

I had Republican Sen. Tom McClintock from Thousand Oaks on my radio show this spring, and I asked him if he could name any major bill that he’d voted for that Schwarzenegger had signed. He couldn’t think of one. The allegedly Republican governor merely signs bills passed by the Democratic majority.

Of course, the governor has absolutely met the bipartisan standard of the “Ceasefire!” conference: He has surrendered and declared victory.

The news media loves it when a Republican acts like a liberal, and members of his own party are afraid to call him on it because of his celebrity status. So the governor not only gets away with this lie, he benefits from it.

He is glorified on the cover of national magazines and hailed as a model of 21st century leadership. But the stark reality behind this misperception is that this kind of politics is really nothing more than unprincipled pandering masquerading as populist-fueled courage.

The dirty little secret of politics is that the vast majority of voters who reside in the hallowed ground of the “political center” are largely apathetic toward, if not abjectly ignorant of, state and national issues. One of the real reasons that our political system is broken is that we have turned those to whom we should listen the least into those to whom our politicians pander the most.

It is particularly sad that Schwarzenegger has become the poster child for this phenomenon. He once claimed Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon and Barry Goldwater to be among his strongest political influences. It was, of course, Goldwater who infamously told the 1964 Republican Convention: “I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!”

If the governor could find a way to harness the energy generated by the three of them spinning in their graves, he might finally have a truly bipartisan solution to the “problem” of global warming with which he seems so obsessed.