Pathological Peas in a Pod

Like most everyone in and around Hollywood, I spent part of this past weekend devouring DisneyWar, James Stewart's 572-page vivisection of Disney CEO Michael Eisner. Throughout the chilling read, I couldn't shake the feeling that Eisner reminded me of someone.

The answer came when I got to the epilogue. "Eisner's most glaring defect," writes Stewart, is "his dishonesty." Stewart goes on to describe Eisner's "tendency to distort, embellish or forget the truth" until he becomes incapable of distinguishing reality from his own fabrications.

That's when it hit me: Eisner is the Disneyland doppelganger of Arnold Schwarzenegger. It's all right there: the unremitting duplicity; the penchant for saying one thing, then doing another; the gift for irrational invective; the way both men forge personal bonds with others, then turn around and stab them in the back – often just hours later.

Mouseketeer Mike and the Governator are pathological peas in a pod. 

DisneyWar is a laundry list of Eisner's lies and deceptions. We get chapter and verse on his infamous two-faced handling of best friend Michael Ovitz, prot̩g̩ Jeffrey Katzenberg, and heir apparent Robert Iger Рas well as the dishonesty-drenched disintegration of his relationships with the Weinstein brothers at Miramax and Steve Jobs at Pixar.

There is the same sad, monotonous predictability to Arnold's serial betrayals. Except that Arnold's victims have fewer resources with which to fight back. In the last few months alone, Schwarzenegger has reneged on well-publicized commitments made to educators, environmentalists, public servants – and voters.

He promised teachers and students last spring that if they agreed not to fight his plan to withhold $2 billion owed to them, he would never again dip into money earmarked for schools to balance his budget. "Trust me," he said. "Over my dead body," he guaranteed. But at a time when a recent Rand Corporation study reports that California ranks near the bottom nationally in both school funding and student performance, Schwarzenegger's new budget gives schools $2.8 billion less than they are owed. He promised environmental groups that he would not support Prop. 64, a Chamber of Commerce-sponsored initiative that prevents citizens from using the courts to protect consumers and the environment. The California League of Conservation Voters plaintively called his promise "a commitment he personally gave to environmentalists." Then he turned around and endorsed Prop. 64, which, with his considerable weight behind it, passed.

He promised State Sen. Gil Cedillo that he would back a revised bill to allow illegal immigrants to get driver's licenses. Based on this pledge, Cedillo agreed to help repeal his own law. After the two came to their agreement, Cedillo asked Schwarzenegger if they should put their deal in writing. "He shook my hand," remembers Cedillo, "he looked me in the eye and said, 'No. I give you my word. I keep it.'" Of course he didn't. And he doesn't.

He promised police officers, firefighters and labor leaders he wouldn't overhaul the state's pension system if they went along with his 2004 budget proposals. They did – and now the governor is betraying them by pushing to privatize California's pension plans and replace them with individual 401 (k)-style private accounts. This is a move right out of the Bush "Let's Privatize Social Security" playbook.

He promised voters that if they passed his balanced-budget initiative, he would "tear up the credit card and throw it away." They did – but his new budget calls for $6 billion in new borrowing. As California Treasurer Phil Angelides sums it up: "The new debts and deferrals would bring the state's total credit card balance to $31 billion, a 68 percent increase since the governor took office."

And that's just the tip of the Matterhorn-sized iceberg. Indeed, there have been so many fresh deceptions it's easy to forget Arnold's old ones: his campaign pledge not to accept contributions from special interests (he has since raised over $28 million, the vast majority of it from all the usual special interest suspects); his claim that his first act as governor would be an exhaustive audit that would uncover "billions of dollars" in waste (those billions in waste proved as elusive as Saddam's WMDs); his oft-repeated vow that he would become "the Collectinator," bringing back much needed federal funds from Washington (instead, things are moving in the opposite direction; the president's new budget will cost the state hundreds of millions more in lost funding). And then there were his PR-driven promises to convert one of his Hummers to hydrogen power and to hire a "well-respected investigative firm" to look into whether he was a serial groper (both promises no sooner made than abandoned).

Arnold and Eisner also share a fondness for the provocative putdown, with Eisner deriding Katzenberg as "the little midget" and Arnold taunting his opponents as "girlie men." And just last week, speaking at a California Republican Party convention, the governor turned up the heat, calling the Democrat-controlled state Legislature "the source" of "all the evil" plaguing the state.

So how have pathological deceivers like Eisner and Arnold been able to stay at the top of their fields? They can both thank the enablers who have allowed them to flourish. In Eisner's case, he has been aided and abetted by a compliant, see-no-evil Disney board that happily did his bidding. For Arnold, it is the absence of an effective loyal opposition, fueled by environmental groups that continue to treat him as something other than what he is: a Bush Republican willing to sacrifice the environment whenever corporate interests demand it, determined, in his own words, "to starve the public sector," and content to balance his budget on the backs of the poor, the sick, the young, the aged and the disabled.

It was whiplash-inducing reading the California League of Conservation Voters' 2004 "Environmental Scorecard." While complaining about Schwarzenegger's broken promises and anti-environmental moves, the group made the astounding assertion: "He's unpredictable, but that's enough to give us hope." Which is like a battered wife saying she is hopeful because her man doesn't beat her up every night.

Of course, like a stopped clock that is right twice a day, Arnold does occasionally do the right thing in the form of the odd, publicity-grabbing concession. But environmental groups need to stop settling for crumbs – like his support for hybrid cars in carpool lanes – while turning a blind eye to his regressive stands on port pollution, renewable energy, wildlife refuges and the use of timberlands. And how can they forgive his enthusiastic endorsement of the most environmentally destructive president in history, including stumping for him in the election-swinging state of Ohio during the final weekend of the campaign?

Not surprisingly, Arnold and Eisner have been good friends for years. Indeed, Disney was one of the corporate backers of Schwarzenegger's trip to New York to speak at this summer's Republican National Convention. And, in November, Arnold boasted of their special relationship.

"I've been going to Disneyland for free for the last 20 years with my family," he told the Los Angeles Times. "As a matter of fact, they opened it up especially for us at 7 in the morning so I don't have to deal with the people." How Marie Antoinette of the "people's governor"! He added: "So there are a lot of favors like that. And I do favors back for them." But he denied that among these favors was his steadfast refusal to do anything about the gaping loophole in California's tax code that allows Disney to pay only a nickel per square foot in property taxes for much of its land while the average new homeowner in the area pays over 3,000 percent more. So Arnold gets to use Disneyland for free, and Disneyland gets to use California for almost free. How charming.

Far less charming is the fact that both men's abject failures as leaders continue to be hidden by the seductive glow of their power. Face it: Eisner walked away from one of the biggest movies (Lord of the Rings) and one of the biggest TV shows (CSI) of all time, predicted Finding Nemo would bomb, and blew a billion dollars each on Euro Disney, the acquisition of Fox Family Channel, and Disney's botched entry into the internet. And Arnold has saddled the state with mounting debt, cut services to the needy, decreased access to higher education, vetoed an increase in the minimum wage and legislation designed to protect workers, the environment and consumers – and is poised to continue inflicting George Bush's mean-spirited, right-wing agenda on California.

Eisner's failures come with a limited price tag. Arnold's failures, on the other hand, are bringing pain and suffering to millions of Californians, while sacrificing the state's future on the altar of the special interests that fund him.

DisneyWar heralds the end of Michael Eisner's reign. The people of California cannot wait that long for the end of Arnold's.

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