Skip to comments.Mark Steyn: The Gubernator?
Posted on 08/09/2003 5:43:47 PM PDT by Pokey78
Profile: Arnold Schwarzenegger
The best scene in The Last Action Hero (1993) was a clip from Laurence Olivier's Hamlet. Arnold Schwarzenegger, edited into the 1948 monochrome and taking dear Larry's role as the eponymous ditherer, starts off the soliloquy, cuts it short and opens fire on the castle, all the while puffing on his stogie. As the unseen narrator puts it, "Something is rotten in the state of Denmark - and Hamlet is takin' out the trash!"
A week ago, it looked as if the roles had been reversed. The conventional wisdom was that Ah-nuld wasn't man enough for California politics. Instead of saying "Hasta la vista, Gray Davis!" and blowing the punk out of the Governor's office, he was nancying around in doublet and hose whimpering, "To be or not to be, that is the question". He'd been scared off. His Kennedy wife didn't want him to run, and, besides, too many people had too much dirt on too many of the sexual perks your big-time Hollywood star avails himself of over the years. He was going to wiggle out, no doubt promising that "Ah'll be back, maybe next election, or the one after, if my wife will let me."
And so not for the first time the experts underestimated Schwarzenegger. On Wednesday's Tonight Show, he announced that he was in. Something is rotten in the State of California - and Arnie is takin' out the trash! Collyvurnja, here he comes!
Whether or not he'll win, nobody can say for certain: the rules of the recall election are as whimsical as a sudden-death gameshow round. The standard line is that it's a "circus", but pre-Arnie it was more of a freak show, filled by various unsatisfying midgets: the pornographer Larry Flynt; the diminutive ex-sitcom-player Gary Coleman; a bounty hunter from Sacramento; the extravagantly-endowed self-proclaimed "Love Goddess" Angelyne (she's a one-woman circus, if only in the sense that she has a big top); and the wannabe celebrity, obscure populist and rumoured fourth Gabor sister Arianna Stassinopoulos Huffington, best remembered in Britain (if at all) as Bernard Levin's ex-squeeze. But no matter how many little clowns pour out of the miniature car, it is the entry of the muscleman that has made this a circus worth seeing.
Whatever happens, he has played his opening hand at a crowded table brilliantly. Arnold has wanted to be Governor of California for two decades, but October 7 represents his best shot. For one thing, there's no primary election in a recall campaign. In a normal election, Arnie wouldn't stand a chance of getting his watered-down "moderate Republicanism" past the death-before-electability crowd who dominate GOP primaries in California. He's unsound on almost everything that matters to them. On the other hand, that supposedly puts him closer to the average voter. As the commentator Andrew Sullivan put it, "Yay! A pro-gay, pro-choice, hard-ass Republican!"
Yet you don't have to be anti-abortion or unenthusiastic about gay marriage to question the hardness of Arnold's ass. When candidates run as "fiscally conservative but socially liberal", the former invariably buckles under the attendant costs of the latter. Arnold is married to Maria Shriver - a niece of Jack, Bobby and Ted Kennedy, and a daughter of George McGovern's running mate - and, as in many mixed marriages, the Democrat seems to have the upper hand ideologically.
But even a RINO - Republican In Name Only - can drive Democrats crazy, and, in desperation to find an attack angle, Dem operatives are currently testing three themes:
1. Arnold is a Nazi.
Okay, Arnold's not a Nazi. He was born in the Austrian town of Thal, but not until 1947, and thus was technically unable to join the Nazi Party no matter how much he may have wanted to. But he certainly has family ties to the Nazis. His wife's grandfather, Joe Kennedy, was one of America's most prominent Nazi sympathisers.
Oh, wait. That's not the Nazi family ties the Dems had in mind? No, as Katie Couric put it on NBC's Today Show, "He's the son of a Nazi Party member. He said he was prejudiced, before overcoming those feelings by working with the Simon Wiesenthal Centre in Los Angeles, and the dean of the centre said an investigation of Schwarzenegger's late father, conducted at the actor's request, found no evidence of war crimes."
Sorry, folks, you'll have to do better than that. The more you bring up the "son of a Nazi" line, the more you remind voters of what Arnold is: an immigrant who escaped and transcended his past. You can't saddle a man who chose to be American with the baggage he left behind in the old country.
2. Arnold is unqualified.
Yes, he's not a professional politician. And that's a disadvantage? The professional politicians are the ones who got California into this mess. This is a "throw the bum out" election, so the successful challenger will be the one who looks least like the bum. Gray Davis has been on the public payroll his entire adult life: he represents the full-time political class. Arnold represents the other California: entrepreneurial energy, wit and invention, the California that understands that if Hollywood and Silicon Valley were run by "qualified" people like Davis we'd still be watching flickering silents and you'd need union-approved quill-feathers to send e-mail.
Arnold made his first business investment at 19, using savings from his bodybuilding contests to buy a failed Munich gym. He turned it around. The first really big money he made in America in the early 1970s came when he and a fellow bodybuilder started a bricklaying business. He's one of a very few actors who was a millionaire before he ever acted. And, if you think it's no big deal being the world's highest-paid movie star, you try it - with a guttural German accent so thick you can barely do dialogue and a body frame so large you're too goofy for playing love scenes. From his gym to his mail-order company to his masonry business to his shopping malls, Schwarzenegger has shown a consistent knack for exploiting the fullest financial value from even his most modest successes. Who would you say best embodies the spirit of California? The guy who has made all his own money? Or the fellows who've squandered everybody else's?
3. Arnold's had too many women.
Arnold has been married to Maria Shriver for 17 human years, which in celebrity years is the equivalent of a Diamond Jubilee. Any dirt Democrats dig up is going to have to be nuclear. When you've been a popular celebrity for 20 years, the only way you can be damaged is with something that's dramatically inconsistent with what the public thinks it knows about you. "Womanising" won't cut it, not for a movie star. If it's oral sex with a starlet in his trailer, the public will shrug. If it's beating up a pre-op transsexual hooker, you're in business. But in a two-month campaign anyone who wants to take him down is going to have to move fast.
Ever since he became a US citizen in 1983, Arnold has taken care, in his marriage and business interests, to remain politically viable. This is his window of opportunity: he's the man who seems most in tune with the moment. Is it likely that Californians have got themselves all whipped up with the Recall Fever just to install another rent-a-hack like Lieutenant-Governor Cruz Bustamante? Or will they figure, what the hell, let's go all the way and take a flyer on Arnie? Everything about this race - from the compressed schedule to the multiple candidates - favours him. "It's the most difficult decision I've made in my entire life, except the one I made in 1978 when I decided to get a bikini wax," he told NBC's Jay Leno, stealing Arianna Huffington's best line. Arnold waxes, everybody else wanes. Hasta la vista, Grayby.
I did preview. I hate when I do that.
I can't understand why this is. As George Will observes, it's the skinny end of the wedge that you put in first. Once that's in place, you just start hammering away.
Anyway, riddle me this...
Where does Arnold stand on Drivers' Licenses for Illegal Aliens?
Getting warmer. It's certainly nuclear, if the Dems know where to look, and don't mind wounding a Kennedy in the collateral damage.
Thanks for the ping! This is my absolute favorite line of the article. Maybe if the conservatives would quit electing non-electable guys in the primary, Republicans would have more office holders. IMO, it is better to have a moderate Republican as Governor than a hard line, liberal DemocRAT. But what do I know, I am a lifelong Republican who wants to win more seats for Republicans!
I will keep you posted as more information comes out, but this article is a good start.
Thanks for your reply.