Is it goodbye to Arnie, or just Hasta La Vista?

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Arnold Schwarzenegger is about to bow out as Governor of California – but what will he do next, asks Guy Adams

He swaggered into town waving a cigar, clicking the heels of his $3,000 cowboy boots, and telling all America that he intended to sort out the dysfunctional mess that is the government of its most populous state.

Or as Arnold Schwarzenegger put it, during the many extravagant moments of his 2003 election campaign, he was about to "kick the butts" of the "girlie men" politicians who run California.

On Monday, the "Governator" will be in the state capital, Sacramento, to watch the curtain fall on his long reign with the swearing-in of his successor, Jerry Brown. And while you may not be able to tell from the megawatt smile, or the tangerine tan, or the wisecracks he will no doubt exchange in that strangely amusing brand of Germanic English, it will not be a very happy ending: amid the pomp and circumstance is an ugly whiff of failure.

Schwarzenegger, 63, leaves office with terrible approval ratings, of just over 30 per cent. To some Californians, he's an abject disappointment; to others, the unfortunate victim of a broken system. No one knows in what capacity, to quote his old catchphrase, he'll ever be back. A few years ago, he was being lauded as a potential future President. Now, like any other ageing Hollywood celebrity, he's juggling offers of movie cameos and charity work.

"The list is a long list of things I can do, but nothing I can concentrate on until I am literally, totally out of office," Schwarzenegger said this week, in a characteristically vague assessment of his future. "For me the joy of life is not to know, and you get into it and you kind of figure it out. I love that."

Overhanging the Schwarzenegger era is a single pertinent fact. As Governor, he never managed to "figure it out" when it came to the most critical issue California faces: how to stave off a snowballing fiscal crisis that left its administration spending far more each year than it can generate in income. The books he pledged to balance, by knocking heads together and rooting out corruption, now resemble those of Greece, with a $25bn public deficit, creaking services, and red ink everywhere.

The one success of his time in office, environmental laws that place strict limits on California's greenhouse gas emissions (a bold template which other states are likely to follow) has meanwhile been lost on the US public, because it has yet to be actually implemented: it was vetoed by fellow Republican George Bush, at the behest of oil companies. Arnie's signal achievement will not therefore begin to take effect until later this year.

"Given Schwarzenegger's monumental aspirations when he set out, his time in office has to be considered a failure," is the stern assessment of his biographer, Laurence Leamer. "California today is in worse shape than when he came in. The education system is a mess, infrastructure is terrible, roads are full of potholes. Bridges are neglected. It's sad.

"You can of course defend him by saying that the problems he faced were too big for one person to solve. But he promised more. He held himself to a higher standard. I look at Schwarzenegger now and see a perfect metaphor for California: the great days of the state are coming to an end, and he's this big, overblown man, watching it happen."

The big man has at least been fun to watch, though. Like many of his most lucrative films, Arnie's reign has made up for lack of substance by being long on entertainment. He waltzed into politics in a razzle-dazzle of designer suits and snakeskin boots, built a smoking tent in the garden of his official mansion so that deals could be brokered over brandy and enormous cigars, and used the wall behind his desk to hang the chintzy sword he carried in the Conan films.

Daily life in camp Schwarzenegger was full of improbable PR stunts. Staffers still joke about the day "Arnold" posed for the cameras with a python round his neck, or the time he installed a 250-pound bronze of a bear beneath the gold lettering outside his office. They remember with glee him sending a Democratic state politician a sculpture of bull's testicles, with a handwritten note telling him to acquire some "cojones".

In person, Schwarzenegger was always a mixture of action hero and showman. One day, he'd have stitches in his face after crashing his Harley Davidson while riding without a proper permit. The next moment, he'd be in plaster following a skiing accident. To listen to his occasional speeches was like witnessing a charming version of John Prescott. When transcribed, his garbled English made little sense, but to a live audience, he was the perfect communicator: short, self-deprecating, vulgar, and often unspeakably funny.

To a certain extent, this was what California signed up for. The Terminator star used a late-night chat show to announce that he intended to run in a special election for the state's highest office, which had been scheduled for November 2003 after the previous governor, Gray Davis, had been prematurely recalled by voters angry at his failure to tame careering public debt.

Arnold seemed at first like the perfect fit for an eclectic electorate. Fiscally conservative but socially liberal, he was a centrist Republican who promised to bring an outsider's rigour to government in the style of

his hero Ronald Reagan, also a former Governor of California. He was all things to all people: a man with right-wing tastes who sandal-wearing lefties could just about stomach.

He cared for the environment, yet drove a Hummer. After winning his first election, comfortably, he began commuting to Sacramento from his home in Brentwood, an expensive part of West Los Angeles, via private jet. When people called him a hypocrite, the wealthy film star responded that he would "offset" the carbon emissions. You can get away with that kind of thing on America's left coast.

Winning elections was, however, only half of the challenge. To actually govern, Schwarzenegger needed the support of California's Senate. And there his reign stalled. With the state careering towards bankruptcy, he found it impossible to get the legislature to sort out its finances. Democrats, who controlled the most seats, blocked efforts to decrease spending. But Republicans could veto any tax raises, since under state law those needed to be approved by a 60-40 majority. The result was gridlock.

A man whose campaign rallies had seen him play air guitar to the tune "We're Not Gonna Take It," and who had promised to be a transformative "tough guy," failed to deliver change. He watched helplessly as California's debt quadrupled, from $6bn when he took office to $25bn today.

His image was also hampered by a string of gaffes, many related to his poor grasp of English. He once talked of "closing" the Mexican border, when he meant to advocate "securing" it. Battered, he withdrew from the media, ending regular press conferences. To advisers, that was sensible. To the public, it seemed aloof.

And so the big man leaves office, tolerated rather than loved, to spend more time with his wife Maria Shriver, a Democrat and scion of the Kennedy dynasty. Though it now seems more unlikely than it did seven years ago, and will take a change in the US Constitution to happen (since he was born in Austria), there are still those who wonder if Arnie could yet manage a tilt at the Presidency.

“Love him or hate him, he brought charm and glamour to office, and got a lot of things done on the environment,” says Ian Halperin, author of a recent biography, The Governator. “I still see him standing for the White House, in 2016, with Bloomberg as VP. In fact, when he went to see Ted Kennedy on his death bed last year, Arnold promised to change the constitution and make a run for president. And Ted Kennedy was delighted.”

So could Schwarzwenegger, ever the action history, manage an unlikely comeback? Could he end up writing the next great chapter in the history of America’s most famous political dynasty? Logic, surely, says not. But it’s a fascinating thought.

The highs

July 2008: California becomes first US state to ban trans fats in restaurants, as they are a cause of heart disease.

August 2006: The Global Warming Solutions Act binds California to a 25 per cent cut in greenhouse gases by 2025.

October 2004: California's ban on deepwater oil drilling is reconfirmed, six years before BP's Gulf of Mexico debacle.

The lows

December 2010: Arnie's approval rating hits record low of 30 per cent as he exits.

July 2008: Fails to get approval for tax cuts during the financial crisis. California is left now with a $25.4bn budget deficit.

September 2004: Accused of homophobia after he says US lawmakers are pessimistic "girlie-men" on the economy.

Alexis Sanchez has completed a £35m move to Arsenal, the club have confirmed
sportGunners complete £35m signing of Barcelona forward
Poor teachers should be fearful of not getting pay rises or losing their job if they fail to perform, Steve Fairclough, headteacher of Abbotsholme School, suggested
voicesChris Sloggett explains why it has become an impossible career path
world cup 2014
Ray Whelan was arrested earlier this week
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
In a minor key: Keira Knightley in the lightweight 'Begin Again'
Arts and Entertainment
Celebrated children’s author Allan Ahlberg, best known for Each Peach Pear Plum
peopleIndian actress known as the 'Grand Old Lady of Bollywood' was 102
Wayne’s estate faces a claim for alleged copyright breaches
newsJohn Wayne's heirs duke it out with university over use of the late film star's nickname
Life and Style
It beggars belief: the homeless and hungry are weary, tortured, ghosts of people – with bodies contorted by imperceptible pain
lifeRough sleepers exist in every city. Hear the stories of those whose luck has run out
Mick Jagger performing at Glastonbury
Life and Style
fashionJ Crew introduces triple zero size to meet the Asia market demand
Santi Cazorla, Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini of Arsenal launch the new Puma Arsenal kits at the Puma Store on Carnaby Street
sportMassive deal worth £150m over the next five years
Arts and Entertainment
Welsh opera singer Katherine Jenkins
musicHolyrood MPs 'staggered' at lack of Scottish artists performing
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
Arts and Entertainment
Currently there is nothing to prevent all-male or all-female couples from competing against mixed sex partners at any of the country’s ballroom dancing events
Potential ban on same-sex partners in ballroom dancing competitions amounts to 'illegal discrimination'
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst Consultant (Financial Services)

£60000 - £75000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

Systems Administrator - Linux / Unix / Windows / TCP/IP / SAN

£60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A leading provider in investment managemen...

AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer

£600 - £700 per day: Harrington Starr: AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer JVS, ...

E-Commerce Developer

£45000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Exciting opp...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice