Corporate cyborg, Arnold Schwarzenegger, must be thinking these days that it was not like this in his movies. On the screen, Arnold was the pursuer, the hunter, and the attacker. On the hustings now, it is the nurses, along with the teachers, and the firefighters, who are dogging him everywhere with their protests against his policies and actions.
When he ignored the law stipulating one nurse for every five hospital patients the opposition from the militant California Nurses Association intensified. Then Arnold made the mistake that keeps on giving. Before an audience of 10,000 women, he was challenged by a group of nurses.
“Pay no attention to those voices over there. They are the special interests, and you know what I mean. The special interests don’t like me in Sacramento because I am always kicking their butts.”
“Kicking their butts,” roars the famous grouper and fondler from Hollywood? Even-the-full-of-himself, basking-in-high-poll numbers, Arnold couldn’t get away with that remark. Nurses have just about the best image around. They are there by the bedside when the doctors have left for home. They are the people who watch lives ebbing away, who hear the cries of pain and the spasms of sorrow day after day. “Kicking their butts?” Whoa! The nurses were off to the Arnold races.
Arnold moves fast — limousines, police escorts, helicopters, and airplanes. He has many fund-raisers to attend — just about every covey of corporate interests willing to shell out thousands to hear him, see him, touch him, be pictured with him, buy him. Among those interests are the hospital industry, the insurance industry, and just about every wealthy clique that is enjoying the corporate welfare, lower taxes hayride in the rich state of California. Oh how the expensive wines in delicate glasses click in unison when he is rubbing shoulders with his class in splendid hotel ballrooms or ornate private clubs.
But Arnold now has company and it is not the corporate type. Real human beings, who work with their hands, hearts and minds, often in uniforms, are greeting him as he disembarks for his political auctions. Arnold is on his way to raising $100 million, a portion of which he wants to use to qualify referenda in November to privatize public pensions, restrict spending and other proposals he calls “reforms.”
Trouble with Arnold’s ideas is that they all come from the hide of people who cannot attend his fund-raisers and are designed to allow the affluent classes to continue escaping their fair share of the fiscal burden.
As Green Party candidate for California governor, Peter M. Camejo, said during the candidates’ televised debate with Arnold in 2003, merely restoring the earlier tax level on the wealthiest 5 percent would produce revenues to close the deficit. Instead, Arnold keeps borrowing money for the state, which is another way of raising taxes on babies who will be paying the interest on that gigantic debt when they grow up.
From California to New Orleans to Ohio, New York to Washington, D.C., the nurses and their labor allies are there to greet him, sometimes with coffins, bands, blimpótoting banners and other media magnets. And they are getting media, in part, because their issues are common to many workers’ worries about concessions or regresses around the country. They have the perfect foil. Arnold digs in his heels, throws out pugnacious words that fuel the eager media’s fires, and does not reach out to meet with them or indicate that his proposals would get a thorough airing in the legislatureóa Democratic Party bastionówhich he treats as a sideshow. He describes the nurse’s protest derisively as extras in a movie.
Political observers and pollsters are reporting that Arnold is starting to lose his entertainment grip on the population. His polls have slipped from 65% approval in September to 55% in February. More and more people are concluding that the showboating and sugarcoating are overdone. The hammers are falling harder on the people so that the rich and corporations can continue their profitable tenure in the golden state without contributing.
Arnold is clever, to be sure. He has supported an environmental move or two, urged needed reform of the notoriously gerrymandered electoral districts by having redistricting decided through a panel of retired judges.
But make no mistake about it, Arnold is true to his movie roles. Life imitates art. Politics is a juggernaut. And if you have to go to the people on waves of corporate cash and deceptive television ads, then perfect the practice of flatter, fooling and faking to win the vote. The trouble with this situation is that there is no prominent, well-known political figure on the other side to rebut him daily. So, except for the nurses protests, he dominates each day.
On their part, the nurses and their union, the patient-sensitive California Nurses Association (CNA), are showing other unions and the AFL-CIO what they need to do fast in the labor-bashing Bush-era politics. Go back to the old days, go to the streets, show up, give your rank and file a chance to have a collectible voice and confront power with justice.
CNA have almost tripled its membership — to over 60,000 members — in the last 12 years. Funny isn’t it? Workers like unions who really fight for them and the people they serve.