It's usually a good thing when elected officials try to explain larger public policy issues by putting them on a scale that ordinary people can understand. That's why every summer in the state Capitol legislators compare the state budget to a family budget, why they explain the benefits of a proposed transportation bond by trying to quantify how many minutes it will deduct from the average commute.
Sometimes, however, the effort can backfire — specifically, when the elected official in question doesn't completely understand the lives of ordinary people. So it was last week, when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger sought to explain his support for the Minuteman Project by saying sometimes it takes private efforts to supplement the efforts of public police agencies. Like in protecting your house, for instance. "For years and years and years I've hired private security to take care of my house, because I felt that the police could not really cover every house and protect the children and families."
That, of course, is a perfectly understandable position for a celebrity multimillionaire. But coming from the governor of California, the comment carries a certain Marie Antoinette touch. If ordinary Californians feel unsafe in their communities, well, let them eat ... er, hire private security.
Schwarzenegger's foes in the law enforcement community were quick to pounce. A letter signed by the heads of numerous police unions was dispatched to the governor, asking for an apology to his "insult to the men and women who protect California families and communities."
And the California Young Democrats issued a stinging memo to political reporters, saying that Schwarzenegger "has only himself to blame if he feels they (police) aren't up to the job of protecting children and families. His administration has consistently slashed funds for local governments, taking money that would have paid for more police and public safety improvements."
Wrote Alex Reese of the Young Democrats: "It seems that Arnold's approach to public safety can be summed up in two words: Be rich."