Professor Schwarzenegger

Can the former governor's new think tank get state and local governments to do what the federal government can't?

Topics: Pacific Standard, Arnold Schwarzenegger, California, Governors, Think Tank,

Professor Schwarzenegger (Credit: AP/Chris Pizzello)
This piece originally appeared on Pacific Standard.

The administration of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger often resembled an ambitious global think tank that was affiliated with a gym. In the long days between his early morning and evening workouts, the governor tackled every thorny public policy issue by convening with experts from across the political spectrum, and the world. Then he and his diverse team of advisers — from progressive environmentalists to conservative business lobbyists — would synthesize centrist solutions that were unveiled at press conferences heavy on body-building metaphors.

Pacific Standard This approach encapsulates what was so promising, and frustrating, about Schwarzenegger’s seven years as California governor. He had a knack for finding the pragmatic middle ground on difficult subjects. But at times, the breadth of his work and ambition made it hard for the administration to focus. That tendency, in combination with political polarization and the difficulties of governing California’s broken system, sometimes made it hard for him to turn his thinking into action.

So the governor’s establishment of a new think tank at the University of Southern California, the USC Schwarzenegger Institute (along with a professorship), is both fitting and intriguing. Yes, comedians have had a field day with the idea of an Arnold think tank (“Maria Shriver said Arnold came up with the idea of the think tank while thinking things over as he slept on the couch,” quipped Argus Hamilton), and yes, there is considerable cynicism about whether USC is trading on Schwarzenegger’s fame and fundraising ability (he’s promised to raise $20 million for the think tank) and whether Schwarzenegger is seeking some academic gloss to rehabilitate his image. But a close look suggests his plan is serious and super-ambitious.

Maybe too ambitious, in a familiar way. The institute is devoted to developing “postpartisan solutions” — a big task in an increasingly polarized world — across five policy areas, each big enough for multiple think tanks: education, energy and environment, fiscal and economic policy, health and human wellness, and political reform.

“We’re not going to do all those things at once,” says Bonnie Reiss, one of the institute’s two directors (the other is law and public policy professor Nancy Staudt). “We want to have the flexibility, should a new policy challenge arise, to take action in a new direction.”



Reiss says the institute will achieve such breadth through a host of collaborations — with students who become institute fellows, with policy practitioners from school superintendents to governors, with other think tanks and nonprofits. Already, Schwarzenegger is devising collaborations with other parts of the USC public policy school (where the institute will be based) and the film school. It’s not hard to imagine, given the former governor’s ambitions, the institute reaching even further afield — even into the hard sciences. The first of the think tank’s stated principles is: “Science and evidence must play an important an important role when finding solutions to policy and social issues.”

Reiss’ presence is one sign of the institute’s seriousness. She’s a former California education secretary and current member of the University of California Board of Regents who has worked with Schwarzenegger for two decades. Among many other successes, she helped turn his LA Inner City Games program into a national after-school program with operations in a dozen cities.

Another good sign is how the USC institute aims to build on other Schwarzenegger policy projects. The USC institute is collaborating with R20, the nonprofit coalition Schwarzenegger founded early last year with the encouragement of United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, who wanted to rebuild momentum for climate change work after the failure of the Copenhagen conference in late 2009. The coalition, made up of large states and provinces from British Columbia to India’s Gujarat state, develops, finances, implements, evaluates and replicates low-carbon and climate-resilient projects with economic benefits. R20 is a natural extension of Schwarzenegger’s gubernatorial work on the issue. Unable to convince the federal government to take more action on climate change, he reached agreements on climate measures with other U.S. states and subnational governments around the globe.

A key player with both the USC center and R20 is Kandeh K. Yumkella, director-general of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization. Yumkella serves on the USC Schwarzenegger Institute’s star-studded advisory board, along with former U.S. Housing Secretary Henry Cisneros, former Secretary of State George Shultz, former Mexican President Vicente Fox, and Austria’s current Chancellor Werner Faymann.

Terry Tamminen, a former California environmental secretary who works with Schwarzenegger on R20, calls the former governor’s aim to harness local and subnational governments to tackle global problems when national governments are paralyzed, “the emerging Schwarzenegger Doctrine.” Duly, Schwarzenegger has been named a professor in state and global policy.

Schwarzenegger expects to collaborate with other political leaders interested in the marriage of subnational governance and global issues. Former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley is chairing the Global Cities Initiative, a joint project of Brookings and JP Morgan Chase to encourage collaboration between municipal leaders worldwide on economic issues. And Schwarzenegger’s R20 has close ties to C40, an organization of large cities chaired by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a Schwarzenegger friend, that focuses on climate change.

Schwarzenegger formally launches the USC think tank with a symposium on campus in late September; he’ll keynote USC’s global conference in Seoul next May.

His biggest challenges: Can he sustain a “postpartisan” think tank when policy-oriented donors are mostly partisan? At age 65, can he quickly build something that lives after him? Schwarzenegger is determined to create a think tank that not only comes up with ideas but also works to implement them. Since implementation was the most difficult challenge for his administration, the big question may be not what new lessons the former governor can teach the world, but what lessons Professor Schwarzenegger learned from his time in office.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>