Cast your mind back to one of the grimmer spectacles of the grim days of 2004: the Bush/Cheney reelection campaign. If you recall, it was impossible to tell the difference that year between the official functions of President Bush and the fearmongering and pandering of Candidate Bush. Every official function was staged like a campaign event. Campaign events looked like official functions as cabinet officers and other administration officials hit the campaign trail for Bush. Even the nation's security apparatus was pressed into service, as the person holding the previously above-the-dirty-work-of-election-level-partisan-politics position of National Security Adviser (former Californian, C. Rice) made campaign appearances, and the color coded Terrorist Threat Level seemed pegged to Bush's performance in the polls. Bush's chief campaign strategist that year was Matthew Dowd. Dowd now fills the same roll for Governor Schwarzenegger, and he's already bringing some of that Bush/Cheney 2004 magic to California.
The Sacramento Bee's Andy Furillo is covering the Schwarzenegger campaign, and has noticed something that will seem very familiar to anyone who remembers 2004:
From Riverside to San Francisco to Bakersfield, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is spending the week touting his economic record at taxpayer expense, taking credit for California's job growth on his watch and patting himself on the back for reducing the state's structural budget deficit.
At the same time, Schwarzenegger's political team is highlighting the Republican governor's economic batting average in its first television advertising blast of the spring.
Schwarzenegger campaign strategist Matthew Dowd drew no distinctions between the campaign ads and Schwarzenegger's official state business when he told reporters Monday, "We're talking about the economy this week, and this ad is about us highlighting that as the governor travels around the state into various media markets."
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Cue the denials from the Schwarzen-people insisting that there's nothing wrong or even questionable about this– Furillo's choice was gubernatorial spokesperson Margita Thompson, who "bristled" (nice choice of verb) while "defending Schwarzenegger's schedule as entirely proper, even as it coincided with the campaign's TV buy in the Los Angeles, Bakersfield and San Francisco markets."
Furillo also adheres to a time-honored journalistic tradition, and finds a talking head from a think-tank to tell us what we already know.
Judy Nadler, a senior fellow in government ethics at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University, said it is basically up to the public to decide whose interest the office-holding candidate's official business is serving - theirs or the politician's.
"Any time that kind of convergence occurs, it does certainly raise a red flag," Nadler said. "And it leads the public to ask exactly this question: Am I paying for this campaign?"
I think it's pretty clear we were paying for a lot of Bush/Cheney's reelection campaign, and god knows we'll be paying price for their reelection long after they are out of office. So will the same be true of Arnold's campaign? Only time, and Matthew Dowd, can tell.