California Is Not Falling Into the Sea
election isnt about Arnoldits about some
forgotten political lessons
Wednesday, Oct. 9I tried to explain the recall to
my kid last night.
didnt go very well.
only three and a half, but I took him into the voting booth,
let him push the buttons and thereby sparked the relentless
fusillade of questions that has long made his demographic
infamous. The ensuing conversation was a bit surreal (although
not half as much as Judy Woodruffs smirking interview
of former West Wing actor and Schwarzenegger campaign hanger-on
Rob Lowe later in the evening) and made the old standby,
Why is the sky blue? seem like, well, childs
to explain the recall, of course, I had to try, picking
my way with only small words, to explain what government
is, how we choose leaders and what they do, why we pay taxes,
and all the rest. I also had to explain how one person presumes
to lead 33 million otherslots and lots and lots
of people. I sounded like Arnold himself, full of
platitudes about clean water and air and new roads and hospitals,
avoiding any messy particulars of how things actually get
done, or the hard choices involved. An hour later, after
our trip to the precinct and arriving at an Arianna Huffington
election-eve party, my son had ignored most of my civics
b.s. and clarified it to its sporting core: We had picked
a team and we wanted them to win.
they didnt, he wanted to know why. The simple answer,
which I told him, was that a lot of people liked a man who
is in lots of grown-ups movies and said what people
wanted to hear. And, personally, I dont think theres
a whole lot more than that going on here.
what the talking heads tell you: California is not falling
into the sea, people. And if this is a sign of the coming
Apocalypse, it is only the latest of its type. Or have you
forgotten the kind of folks we elect here on the left coast?
Ronald Reagan, Jerry Brown, George Deukmejian, Pete Wilson,
Gray Davisthose are the governors that have run things
here since I was born, and Im not sure how Arnold
could be much worse.
when Arnold gets to Sacramento he is not only going to be
bored out of his mindOle Sack-A-Tomatoes makes his
hometown of Graz, Austria, look like Parisbut hes
going to find himself stuck firmly between his hack reactionary
advisors (never mind the token nods to free-thinkers like
Warren Buffet) and the hard-nosed Democratic vet John Burton
running the legislature down the street. It wont matter
how many East Coast Kennedys he has delightedly sniffing
his sweat, the first move is now Arnolds and the Democrats
get to play the spoilers. Remember how the government shutdown
backfired on the Gingrich gang? A sequel is definitely possible
fact, going down the line, there is actually nothing shocking
about last nights results. We are just relearning
the same old lessons:
arestop me if youve heard this beforedisconnected
from the democratic process and so frustrated with feeling
powerless to be heard that they are increasingly
resorting to clumsy, angry acts of rebellion against anything
that can be considered the status quo. Arnold is most definitely
a Republican, but he still managed to secure the crucial
a pox on both your houses vote.
of individuals are always at their core personality contests,
as frustrating as that may be to intellectuals of all political
stripes, who want them to be about the facts, the issues,
the qualifications and platforms of the candidates. Schwarzenegger
had more charisma and effortlessly garnered more media coverage.
voters no longer think celebrities or politicians should
be held morally responsible for things they do on their
own time. Furthermore, if we like you, youll
be forgiven quickly, as long as you express a bare minimum
dont think our vote is precious, and were
not at all sure it really matters who sits up in the Capitol,
so why not have somebody that we like to see on TV? Like
Mack in the Dr. Seuss story, Yertle the Turtle,
were all much more aware of the view in our immediate
vicinity than what happens in the proverbial smoke-filled
room. Things not feeling so good at the bottom of the muck?
Lets shake the tree and see what falls out.
need not apply: The progressive left tried to take Arnold
down for not being smart, drafting to oppose him an honest-to-god
debating champ from Oxford. Duh! Americans, and Californians,
have made it abundantly clear: They do not like know-it-alls,
except on Jeopardy! After all, most Americans dont
have the time or the willingness to read the front section
of their daily newspaper, dont discuss politics beyond
the bare surface in their social circles, arent active
in any political organization and see democracy as primarily
a once-a-year 10-minute duty. Why would we want to elect
somebody who makes us feel uninformed? If youre book
smart, like Gore, youd better do like so many women
have done through the centurieshide it well.
is not that Americans like stupid leaders, although we certainly
have chosen plenty over the years. But we are very afraid
of being condescended to, and violently opposed to what
we consider elitism. Unfortunately, most of us are deluded
by our culture into believing we are only a lottery ticket
or a few decades of hard work away from being millionaires,
and we want our tax breaks to be nice and juicy when we
finally get there. Compare this to the fact that most Americans
consider being an intellectual (or, god forbid, an artist)
only slightly less burdensome on society than being a welfare
cheat, and it becomes clear what a bonehead move it
is to keep pushing brain-on-a-stick nerds like Ralph Nader
and Arianna Huffington into the mainstream as our chosen
fact, everything that we said bad about Arnold arguably
helped him. We said he was a megalomaniac, for examplebut
this is America, we love megalomaniacs here! Henry Ford,
John Kennedy, Joe Namath, Barbara Streisand, Muhammad Ali,
Billy Graham, Bill Clintona massive ego combined with
a winning smile can take you very, very far in this country.
Similarly, we emphasized Arnolds bad boy
side, ignoring the abiding fondness Americans have for the
leering pirate who opposes the Puritan angel on our other
shoulder. The key for a public figure is not to be pureyuck!but
merely to aspire to be pure, and show us an aw shucks,
you caught me momma, smile once in a while.
bad times, the current government will be blamed whether
it deserves it or not. Life isnt fair.
the saying goes, If you dont stand for something,
youll fall for anything. For triangulating,
take-no-risks Democrats like Gray Davis, it eventually becomes
clear to voters that there is no there there.
We dont trust the media, especially when it uses words
and not pictures. People wonder why the groping stories
didnt seem to affect the outcome, but its not
a mystery: They were reported in the print press, otherwise
known as the liberal media, and we didnt see the harassed
women themselves on Oprah. This allowed pundits like Rob
Lowe to dismiss what amounts to an overwhelming amount of
evidence that Arnold is a sick, abusive man as puke
is easy to have a perfect platform on paper. (If you dont
believe it, check out the innovative progressive solutions
offered by porn star candidate Mary Carey Cook.)
It is very, very hard, however, to build movements and win
elections. I personally like Arianna Huffington and think
she is one of the most brilliant pundits around. But think
about it, she is famous in California for two things: The
nutty, cynical campaign her millionaire husband ran for
governor with her strong support and being on Comedy Central,
a niche cable channel for smirking Bohemians.
vast majority of us dont have any emotional attachment
to a political party. Consider this: I was born and raised
in California. I am 36 years old and have voted in every
election I could, even sometimes when abroad. I went to
college. In all that time, I have never been personally
approached by a Democrat or Republican to take part in a
political activity except on election day. We live in a
democracy and politics are not in any way part of the tissue
of our lives, except for, possibly, the local school board.
This is a problem. We can believe that Arnold is not
a real Republican because we dont feel like
a real [fill-in-the-blank] ourselves. Are you a Democrat?
A Green? Say it out loud and see how it feels.
those who think Arnold will be a less-than-one-term guffaw,
guess again. His victory is not a fluke, a result of a
perfect storm as NPRs national political analyst
said this morning. In fact, probably the only reason he
didnt runand winthe year before is because
he was thought to be too liberal for the conservative base
that votes in the Republican primary. We have known the
guy was coming for a few years, just like the next Terminator
sequel, and the fact that it didnt surprise anybody
hasnt hurt sales.
now, Arnold is not a Hitler-groping, steroid-pumping gazillionaire
but a winner. Americansand this will be my final sweeping
generalization for the day, I promiselove a winner,
and for now, Arnold is not a guy who has to figure out how
to balance the budget or try to find a good cigar bar in
Californias version of Squaresville; he is simply
a megalomaniac, charismatic, not-so-bright-you-couldnt-have-a-beer-with-him,
self-made man with a huge smile.
call us crazy, world, tell us it was all a circus, shout
that the sky is falling. Hey, were Californiawe
dont care at all what you think, frankly. But know
that the problems this exposes are both far bigger and more
mundane than whether an action figure should be governor.
Christopher Scheer was born in Berkeley, which many people
consider to not actually be part of the United States.