Giving the Governator an F

by John J. Pitney, Jr.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has made American political discourse a little cruder — which is saying something. As California journalists noted, he sneaked an obscene acrostic into a veto message. The first letters of the middle paragraphs lined up to spell “F*** you.” A spokesperson for the governor half-heartedly suggested that it was a coincidence. Yeah, right. The odds against those seven letters appearing in that specific order by chance are 8,031,810,176 to one.

The governor was directing his “message” toward the bill’s sponsor, a left-wing Democrat who had shouted vulgar insults at him a few weeks ago. At first blush, a conservative Republican might think: “The legislator is a jerk who deserved it. Good for Arnold.”

On second thought, bad for Arnold.

Granted, cussing is not the deadliest sin. In moments of anger, many of us mutter expletives. YouTube is full of embarrassing “open mike” incidents in which public figures have used bad language. But this case is different. Schwarzenegger deliberately etched an obscene word into the official public record, where it will stay forever. 

It probably took his staff a good deal of effort to devise the acrostic. So think about it: Amid a fiscal crisis requiring severe cutbacks, a public employee had to use government time and resources to carry out the governor’s potty-mouth prank. This incident sends the message that he does not take the crisis very seriously. And one hopes that he did not assign a female aide to the task: Such is the stuff of sexual-harassment lawsuits.

Nobody should expect elected officials to be perfect in their private lives. But we can expect them to behave like adults in their public lives. By pulling a stunt that would land a junior-high-school kid in detention, the governor has flunked this standard.

 — John J. Pitney Jr. is the Roy P. Crocker professor of government at Claremont McKenna College. With James Ceaser and Andrew Busch, he is co-author of Epic Journey: The 2008 Elections and American Politics.

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