September 14, 2003


Top Gun vs. Total Recall: Who's more Hollywood, Schwarzenegger or Bush? (Frank Rich, 9/14/03, NY Times)

The fun in watching Mr. Schwarzenegger is that, unlike Mr. Bush and most of his other political peers, he doesn't pretend to be above Hollywood stunts; he flaunts his showmanship and policy ignorance as flagrantly as those gaudy rings he wears. Rather than wait a few weeks to trade quips with a late-night TV comic, as Mr. Bush and Al Gore did in the 2000 campaign, he just cut to the chase and announced his candidacy to Jay Leno. The political press then pooh-poohed his decision to give his first interview to Pat O'Brien of "Access Hollywood" instead of, say, Tim Russert. But Mr. O'Brien, who began his career working for David Brinkley at NBC News in Washington, points out that most of his supposedly more serious colleagues were condescending to Mr. Schwarzenegger as a show-biz joke anyway, with their dim wordplays on the titles of his movies. "Everybody ought to take a deep breath and realize the guy is a candidate now, not the Terminator," Mr. O'Brien says. "There aren't enough of those metaphors to last until the election."

When Ronald Reagan was asked to predict what kind of governor of California he'd make, he famously answered: "I don't know. I've never played a governor." As his biographer, Lou Cannon, has written, Reagan ran for that office not knowing how bills were passed or budgets were prepared. In this sense, Mr. Schwarzenegger has admitted to being somewhat Reaganesque. His ideology, though, is way to the left of his party, despite all the lip service he pays to being a fiscal conservative. (Howard Dean is a fiscal conservative, too.) Mr. Schwarzenegger is pro-choice, pro-gay rights, pro-gun control, pro-green. He has said that the Clinton impeachment made him "ashamed" to call himself a Republican.

It is hilarious to watch conservatives -- the same conservatives who often decry phony Hollywood liberals and their followers -- betray their own inviolate principles to bask in Arnold's hulking movie-star aura so that they might possibly gain a nominal Republican victory in the bargain. Even the 1977 Oui magazine interview in which Mr. Schwarzenegger bragged about participating in orgies -- not to mention his repeated admissions of drug use -- can't frighten them away.

Arnold may have ducked questions about affirmative action, but that hasn't stopped Fox's star-struck Sean Hannity from gushing that he's "as forthright as any politician I've ever interviewed in my life." As for the Oui confessional, Bill O'Reilly said: "So what? He's a new guy." Rush Limbaugh at first questioned Mr. Schwarzenegger's conservative bona fides, but of late has been hedging, praising Arnold for "the charisma, the star power, the stage presence . . . the likability, the personality" and saying that he never meant to imply that he "is not worthy." No less a religious conservative than Pat Robertson came out for La-La-Land's pro-gay, pro-choice Republican as well: "I'm a body-builder. . . . So I think the weight lifters of the world need to unite."

Ann Coulter has a term for conservatives who wimp out like this -- "girly boys." But she's gone all girly herself over Arnold, telling Larry King that "I'm impressed enough that he's in Hollywood, he's married to a Kennedy and he still calls himself a Republican — that's good enough for me." Perhaps. Her friend, Bill Maher, has taken a somewhat darker view of these unlikely political conversions. "If his father wasn't a Nazi," he has said of Arnold, "he wouldn't have any credibility with conservatives at all."

The Bill Maher quote is predictable enough, but it's surprising that Mr. Rich--some forty years after Ronald Reagan's political career began--still hasn't figured out that it is precisely because conservatives have so little respect for politics and government that they're unfazed by neophyte candidates. It is Democrats with their belief that governance should be at the center of our lives and that policies must be terribly convoluted, innovative, and administered from the top down, who place their faith in a managerial/intellectual class to rule over us. Therefore, they have traditionally believed that extensive experience and some imagined level of "expertise" are required to be a successful elected official. This may be the main reason that Republican actors have done so much better than Democrats when they've run for office. But Democrats finally seem to be figuring out that government isn't rocket science, in particular with their turn to business people (Cantwell, Corzine, etc.) to run for the Senate and now with their desperate courtship of General Wesley Clark.

Here, at any rate, is a more sensible look at the inexperienced actor angle, Experience might not mean much to voters: Reagan used criticism to his advantage in '66 (George E. Condon Jr., September 1, 2003, COPLEY NEWS SERVICE):

When they listen to Arnold Schwarzenegger's political opponents assail the actor's "inexperience," Jerry Brown and Lyn Nofziger hear echoes from a California race run almost four decades ago. Similar allegations were raised then and failed to sway an electorate unhappy with an incumbent insider.

"That didn't work for my father and they could be making the same mistake again," said Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown. [...]

Reagan deflected Brown's statements with one disarming comment: "The man who currently has the job has more experience than anybody. That's why I'm running."

"What they keep forgetting, then and now, is that most people don't think you need that much experience to be governor," Nofziger said.

The younger Brown, who was to succeed Reagan as governor and serve two terms in the office, agreed.

"We don't want to overstate the experience needed to be governor," he told CNN earlier this month. "I've been there. I can tell you what it is. It's not like, you know, fixing a complicated airplane engine. It takes some intelligence. It takes common sense. It takes some character, some understanding, and concern about what is needed by California." [...]

"For some voters, it cuts both ways," [Field Poll director Mark DiCamillo] said. "For Republicans, it actually might be a net positive. They don't associate him with career politicians. . . . But for many, many Democrats, it's a negative."

Mr. Schwarznegger is no Ronald Reagan, but given the competition he hardly needs to be.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 14, 2003 7:05 AM

The standard operating procedure in high-profile political races involving "new" Republican politicans over the years has been to portray them as idiots compaired to their Democratic opponents. That tracks all the way through the Eisenhower-Stevenson election to Reagan vs. Brown in California and Reagan vs. Carter/Reagan vs. Mondale natinoally, followed by Bush-Ann Richards in 1994 and Bush-Gore in 2000 and Bush vs. whoever next year.

Were this just a race between Schwartenegger and Davis, the same stereotypical charactures would be trotted out once again. But with Bustamante in the race, and given what even some Democrats have said about his mental capacity, the usual "The Democrat is the smart one" playbook doesn't work here nearly as well. Arnold can be hit as being frivilous in some of his positions, but those charges mainly come from McClintock's supporters to his right. Going after him on the intellegence factor, once it became clear that Cruz was the Democrats' best hope to retain power in Sacremento, is something only the most hard-line party loyalists would be willing to try.

Posted by: John at September 14, 2003 11:51 AM

the good news is that Rich has been sent back to the arts page, the bad news is that they are still publishing him.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at September 14, 2003 8:36 PM

My computer's been having trouble accessing the NYT articles for some reason. Thanks for posting that Frank Rich bit. It was excellent.

Posted by: Jimmy at September 14, 2003 11:07 PM


He's a very good bitchy columnist, but that works better in theater than in politics.

Posted by: oj at September 15, 2003 12:37 AM