The New Action Heroes

On an unseasonably hot May day in Central Park, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg — the pint-size billionaire whose last name needs no elaboration for anyone who knows anything about finance or the media — was talking about saving the planet…"Unfortunately, partisan politics has immobilized Washington," Bloomberg said. "But the public wants this problem solved. Cities can’t wait any longer for national governments to act."
At a lab in Toronto a week later, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger — the fridge-size multimillionaire whose last name needs no elaboration, period — was talking about eliminating disease…"I look forward to curing all these terrible illnesses," Schwarzenegger said. "We’re showing how powerful a state can be. Cahh-lifornia doesn’t need to wait for the Federal government."
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 also doing big things. Specifically, they’re doing big things that Washington has failed to do. In a time of federal policy paralysis, when partisanship-on-crack has made compromise almost impossible, 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, cities and states are filling the void. Bloomberg and Schwarzenegger happen to be the best examples of this phenomenon as well as the best known. Bloomberg is 65; the Last Action Hero is turning 60; they’ve got better things to do than bicker and posture. "These are two exceptional and forceful guys who don’t need the job at all; they had pretty damn good lives before they got into politics," says their mutual friend Warren Buffett. "They’re in office to get things done. And they’re doing that a lot better than anyone in D.C."
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 he announced new restrictions on campaign donations — the tightest in the nation — Bloomberg was asked if he was being hypocritical, since he had spent more than $150 million of his own money to win two elections. "I would suggest that before anyone runs for office, they should go out and become a billionaire," he replied. "It makes it a lot easier."
…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."
…"What good is a 70% approval rating if we don’t take risks?" he asked his aides. So far, that rating hasn’t budged, which has given political cover to New York Governor Eliot Spitzer and even the Bush Administration to support his efforts to reduce emissions. "The naysayers who think global warming is too big a problem just don’t have any vision," he says.
…It’s not exactly the Sierra Club message, but he’s a powerful messenger. He was in Vancouver to sign another climate deal when news broke that Bush would reject Europe’s push for climate caps at the G-8 summit and would propose a meeting instead. "We don’t need another meeting on global warming," Schwarzenegger told a crowd of reporters. "We need action." Action, of course, is Schwarzenegger’s thing. He was never much for dialogue. In an interview, he marveled at Bush’s notion that America shouldn’t cap its own emissions until China and India agree to do so. "That’s not what leadership is about," he said. "We don’t care if Arizona is going to do the right thing; we take action ourselves." …

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