Two Socially Liberal Republicans Accomplishing Goals Despite Washington Gridlock

The Republicans could (and probably will) do a lot worse than to follow the lead of this odd couple profiled by Time:

The Hollywood brute and the Wall Street mogul may look like the oddest couple since Twins, but there’s a reason Schwarzenegger calls Bloomberg his soul mate. They’re both self-confident, self-made men who rose to stardom from middle-class obscurity — Bloomberg in Medford, Mass., Schwarzenegger in Thal, Austria — through Tiger Woods-level determination and Donald Trump-level salesmanship. They’re both socially liberal Republicans who have flourished in Democratic political cultures; Schwarzenegger is even a member of the Kennedy clan, through his marriage to Maria Shriver.

While Washington has been in gridlock and “when President George W. Bush’s political adviser is a household name but his domestic policy adviser was unknown even in Washington until he was arrested for shoplifting,” mayors and governors are being forced to take action:

Look at global warming. Washington rejected the Kyoto Protocol, but more than 500 U.S. mayors have pledged to meet its emissions-reduction standards, none more aggressively than Bloomberg. His PlaNYC calls for a 30% cut in greenhouse gases by 2030. It will quadruple the city’s bike lanes, convert the city’s taxis to hybrids and impose a controversial congestion fee for driving into Manhattan. And Schwarzenegger signed the U.S.’s first cap on greenhouse gases, including unprecedented fuel-efficiency standards for California cars. (He’s already tricked out two of his five Hummers, one to run on biofuel and another on hydrogen.) The feds have done nothing on fuel efficiency in two decades, but 11 states will follow California’s lead if Bush grants a waiver. After signing a climate deal with Ontario — on the same day as his stem-cell deal — he said he had a message for Detroit: “Get off your butt!” He had a similar message for Washington. “Eventually, the Federal government is going to get on board,” he said. “If not, we’re going to sue.”

But they’re tackling not just the climate. Bloomberg is leading a national crackdown on illegal guns, along with America’s biggest affordable-housing program. He also enacted America’s most draconian smoking ban and the first big-city trans-fat ban. And he’s so concerned about Washington’s neglect of the working poor that he’s raised $50 million in private money, including some of his own millions, to fund a pilot workfare program. Meanwhile, after the Bush Administration rebuffed California’s appeals for help repairing the precarious levees that protect Sacramento, Schwarzenegger pushed through $42 billion worth of bonds to start rebuilding the state’s infrastructure. He’s also pushing a universal health-insurance plan and hopes to negotiate a deal with Democrats this summer. “All the great ideas are coming from state and local governments,” Schwarzenegger told Time. “We’re not going to wait for Big Daddy to take care of us.”

I’m not so thrilled with some of Bloomberg’s nanny state ideas, but it appears that overall he’s been good for New York:

Bloomberg inherited a tough situation. The city was hemorrhaging jobs after the Sept. 11 attacks, and Giuliani’s second-term spending spree had left the city in a financial hole. Bloomberg raised property taxes 18% to attack the deficit, and he made some modest but politically difficult spending cuts, including the closing of several firehouses. He also engineered a hostile takeover of the city’s troubled schools and banned smoking in the city’s restaurants and bars. His approval ratings sagged into the 20s; his constituents booed him at parades. “They’ll come around,” he told aides.

They have, because the city has. Bloomberg hasn’t etched his personality into the city’s soul, but major crime has dropped 30% in New York in the Bloomberg era, without the racial antagonisms of the Giuliani era. Test scores and graduation rates are up, unemployment is at a record low, welfare rolls are at a 40-year low, construction is booming, the deficit has become a surplus, and the city’s bond rating just hit an all-time high of double-A.

As a candidate with no political base, no political history and no political debts, Bloomberg came into office beholden to no one. Even when they don’t agree with his decisions, New Yorkers seem to sense that he’s set aside his conglomerate and his four vacation homes for public-minded reasons; his approval rating has hovered around 70% for nearly two years. His administration has made mistakes — an ill-fated stadium plan, a school-bus snafu — but it’s been scandal-free, and every major media outlet endorsed his re-election. Bloomberg likes to think big: as a businessman, he aimed to make financial markets transparent; as a philanthropist, he’s funding research designed to eliminate malaria by building a better mosquito. “I was hired to solve problems,” told Time. “Yes, I’ll fix potholes, but that’s not why I wanted this job.”

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