Topic: Government & Politics Society

Arnold Schwarzenegger
(February 2005)

This honor is a month tardy, but Ethics Heroes from the shadowy realm of politics are rare indeed, and the genuine article deserves recognition even if it comes a bit late.

Ethics heroes come in two varieties. One is the individual who takes the right course even when it involves unpleasant consequences to him or herself. The other is the individual who is willing to shatter tradition and precedent by doing something good and important that has needed doing for a very long time. "Ahnold" is the second flavor of hero.

Last month, the body-builder turned actor turned politician announced that he would seek to change California’s legislative and congressional districts so they would no longer protect incumbents from both parties. Thanks to sophisticated computer programs, districts from sea to shining sea in the US have been gerrymandered to create strong Democratic or Republican strongholds, where even inept representatives can run unopposed or with a guaranteed 60% (or more) of the vote. Congressional seats only change hands when incumbents retire, die, break the law or refuse to admit affairs with Chandra Levy, with the result that Congress is over-populated with extremists, mediocrities, and political hacks. Vigorous democracy, as demonstrated by truly contested elections, has ceased to exist in choosing state and national legislatures, and both political parties think this is just hunky-dory. Job security is nice, after all.

Opposing this nearly unanimous mindset is the Terminator, who clearly regards legislators who are afraid to have to run on their accomplishments rather than their party labels as girly men, and whatever Schwarzenegger calls faint hearted female politicians…"weenie girls", maybe. He proposes to put before his state’s voters a plan that would have retired judges draw up districts based on factors that do not include incumbent protection. If he is successful, and he just may be, the sight of California re-invigorating the representative government election process is likely to enlighten and embolden voters in other states. Everybody, except professional politicians, would benefit from this change, which has been advocated by political scientists of all ideological persuasions for at least two decades.

But it will have been the unlikely governor with the funny accent and the gap in his teeth who took the initiative and made it happen. The Ethics Scoreboard wishes him success for the sake of the nation, and is grateful that, for once, a make-believe hero actually had what it takes to be the real thing.

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