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.

You Might Also Like

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 13
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    DAYA  
    Young Daya has yet to become entirely jaded, but she has the character's trademark skeptical pout down pat. And with a piece-of-work mother like Aleida -- who oscillates between jealousy and scorn for her creatively gifted daughter, chucking out the artwork she brings home from summer camp -- who can blame her?

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    MORELLO   
    With her marriage to prison penpal Vince Muccio, Lorna finally got to wear the white veil she has fantasized about since childhood (even if it was made of toilet paper).

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    CINDY   
    Cindy's embrace of Judaism makes sense when we see her childhood, lived under the fist of a terrifying father who preached a fire-and-brimstone version of Christianity. As she put it: "I was raised in a church where I was told to believe and pray. And if I was bad, I’d go to hell."

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    CAPUTO   
    Joey Caputo has always tried to be a good guy, whether it's offering to fight a disabled wrestler at a high school wrestling event or giving up his musical ambitions to raise another man's child. But trying to be a nice guy never exactly worked out for him -- which might explain why he decides to take the selfish route in the Season 3 finale.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    BOO   
    In one of the season's more moving flashbacks, we see a young Boo -- who rejected the traditional trappings of femininity from a young age -- clashing with her mother over what to wear. Later, she makes the decision not to visit her mother on her deathbed if it means pretending to be something she's not. As she puts it, "I refuse to be invisible, Daddy. Not for you, not for Mom, not for anybody.”

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    SOSO
    We still don't know what landed Brooke Soso in the slammer, but a late-season flashback suggests that some seriously overbearing parenting may have been the impetus for her downward spiral.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    POUSSEY
    We already know a little about Poussey's relationship with her military father, but this season we saw a softer side of the spunky fan-favorite, who still pines for the loving mom that she lost too young.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    PENNSATUCKY
    Pennsatucky had something of a redemption arc this season, and glimpses of her childhood only serve to increase viewer sympathy for the character, whose mother forced her to chug Mountain Dew outside the Social Security Administration office and stripped her of her sexual agency before she was even old enough to comprehend it.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    CHANG
    This season, we got an intense look at the teenage life of one of Litchfield's most isolated and underexplored inmates. Rebuffed and scorned by her suitor at an arranged marriage, the young Chinese immigrant stored up a grudge, and ultimately exacted a merciless revenge.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    HEALY
    It's difficult to sympathize with the racist, misogynist CO Sam Healy, but the snippets we get of his childhood -- raised by a mentally ill mother, vomited on by a homeless man he mistakes for Jesus when he runs to the church for help -- certainly help us understand him better.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    NORMA
    This season, we learned a lot about one of Litchfield's biggest enigmas, as we saw the roots of Norma's silence (a childhood stutter) and the reason for her incarceration (killing the oppressive cult leader she followed for decades).

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    NICKI
    While Nicki's mother certainly isn't entirely to blame for her daughter's struggles with addiction, an early childhood flashback -- of an adorable young Nicki being rebuffed on Mother's Day -- certainly helps us understand the roots of Nicki's scarred psyche.

  • 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>