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August 10, 2003 Opinion

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California Politics and the Events of This Week
"The chi done gone."
So much has been said of events out here I feel there is little more to add. 
As I write this on Sunday afternoon, August 10, of the more than six-hundred Californians who started the process of becoming candidates in the recall election to be considered as a replacement fifty-eight actually came up with the required fee - 3,500.00 - and the sixty five signatures.  Over the next several days officials will verify the signatures are those of registered California voters and no one provided their signature for more than one prospective candidate. 
This may narrow the field a bit.  I am assuming there will be approximately one hundred names on the ballot that I will see on vetoing day in October 7th.  Perhaps there will more more than that.  I understand the candidates will be listed randomly.
As you all know, the most prominent candidate is the actor Arnold Schwarzenegger.  As of this posting he has said little of what he would do improve matters here, given the state is thirty-eight billion dollars in debt and its bond ranking has dropped to near junk bond status. 
Still, it seems it is likely, now, that he will win the job.  As he said in Pumping Iron, a documentary on his body-building career, "I was always dreaming about very powerful people, dictators, people like Jesus, being remembered for thousands of years."  Perhaps he well be.
But why will he be our next governor?  The issues are complex and the problems out here daunting.  But there's something in the air.  He knows little about state government and all that but he's got the style of a leader. 
I suspect this President Bush's strength also.  People feel, in spite of his privileged background of little accomplishment until he stopped drinking in his forties, and his limited interest in ideas, policy and the world outside our borders, he seems decisive and forceful.  He doesn't talk much, he doesn't think subtly, but he gets things done.  Much of the American public responds to that.  Action, not words.  They like Bush's style.
Paul Krugman in the New York Times on 29 July...
... in modern America, style trumps substance. Here's what Tom DeLay, the House majority leader, said in a speech last week: "To gauge just how out of touch the Democrat leadership is on the war on terror, just close your eyes and try to imagine Ted Kennedy landing that Navy jet on the deck of that aircraft carrier."
To say the obvious, that remark reveals a powerful contempt for the public: Mr. DeLay apparently believes that the nation will trust a man, independent of the facts, because he looks good dressed up as a pilot. But it's possible that he's right.
What must worry the Bush administration, however, is that the American people gave Mr. Bush their trust because in the aftermath of Sept. 11, they desperately wanted to believe the best about their president. If that's all it was, Mr. Bush will eventually face a terrible reckoning.  
But I don't agree with Krugman's conclusion.  If folks find out it's all style, well, so what?  It's the style that matters.  The man who takes action without a whole lot of soul-searching or thought, who distrusts discussion and details, is the man who makes most Americans comfortable.  We may have been lied to, we may have been wrong, but we DID something.  We may have done the wrong thing and made things worse, but damn it, we DID something.  Not like those French.  Or Germans,  Or all the rest.
It would seem that in a frightening world full of terrorists who could kill many of us at any time, believing that a real-life action figure could make us all safe again is comforting.  It may not be true.  But we need that comfort.
On a national scale it is Bush that provides that comfort, and at the state level here in California, where the economy is disintegrating and all the rest, it is Arnold Schwarzenegger.  The action hero myth.  The silent, strong stranger comes to save the day.
Maureen Dowd on 10 August in her syndicated column puts the California race this way:
The race is so wacky, there's less emphasis on the fact that the actor is running on pecs and running away from peccadilloes.
Sure, he's smoked marijuana and his father was a Nazi, but look at the field: a porn star who wants to tax breast implants; a self-styled "smut peddler who cares"; a billboard Barbie in a pink Corvette; a former child actor; an ex-cop who wants to legalize ferrets; a comedian who wants to ban low-low-riding pants; a glam Greek columnist whose rich ex-husband endorsed Arnold.
When President Bush does a Top Gun landing on an aircraft carrier, he's trying to imitate an action hero. When John Kerry carts his Harley to various campaign stops, he's trying to show he's a tough guy.

Mr. Schwarzenegger already has what consultants struggle to superimpose on candidates: an aura of a strong protector who will get voters out of messes.

As one of his advisers says, "Whether it's really Arnold or his movie image, he's seen as a man of few words and lots of action. Other candidates spend $50 million on ads to get a sliver of that persona."
So that'ss where we find ourselves out here.  The mood seems to be that even if he's not very well qualified, even if he's a bit inarticulate and, in addition, cannot or will not say what he will do when elected and in office, Arnold Schwarzenegger is the kind of guy who won't take crap - and will DO things.  No talk.  No compromise.  Action.

And the attacks have begun on Schwarzenegger from those who don't understand that even if Tim Noah in Slate trots out the Nazi stuff - yes, Schwarzenegger's father was a Nazi and Schwarzenegger stood behind Kurt Waldheim long after the war crimes problem came to light -folks won't care.  Anyway, Schwarzenegger has given plenty of time and money to the Simon Wiesenthal Center here in Los Angeles, and been "a friend" of Israel. 
And in times of deep fear and social and economic dissolution many people, I suspect, are attracted to some of what the Nazi and fascist leaders did. 

I did just make the contention that in these times folks are attracted to such things, to action, not talk, to violence not diplomacy, in a way that meshes with fascist, Nazi ways of dealing with the world.  Bush could have said this: "You know what I think about violence.  For me it is profoundly moral, more moral than compromise and negotiation."  But Benito Mussolini said that.

As I see it, on the national level, and now on the state level, the lines are drawn between the thinkers and the doers.  But it's an old conflict.

So the left will subtly or not so subtly call Schwarzenegger a Nazi and ask what he thinks and plans, while most people just don't care.  People don't want someone who thinks and plans.  The want someone who acts. 
The right is now after Schwarzenegger because he's said things in the past indicating he's fine with abortion being legal, that he once or twice said he thought gun control is a good idea, that he doesn't seem to think assuring legal rights for homosexuals is a bad thing, and, the worst sin of all, he once said he was ashamed to be a Republican when the effort was underway to impeach Bill Clinton and remove Clinton from office. 
But again, this doesn't seem to matter.  Schwarzenegger has the image of someone who is decisive and will just DO something.  And for many people, that's more than anyone else in government has offered.

So, who else is running? 
The anti-Arnold.  That would be Arianna Huffington.  She's a rather famous syndicated columnist, author and commentator.  But she has a Masters in Economics from Cambridge (1971).  She once was head of the Cambridge Union, the ultimate debating society which is REAL talk without action.  She wrote best-selling biographies of Pablo Picasso and Maria Callas.  She used to be a conservative but has become somewhat of an independent populist.  Lately she's been heading a movement to limit the use of those large truck-like SUV things just about everyone is driving.  She drives a Toyota Prius.  Arnold own eight Hummers, and those would be the original full-size H1 model, not the H2 everyone sees out here.  No chance for her.  She seems to be a thinker.

Now the conservatives who think Schwarzenegger has the wrong ideas and philosophy, as if that matters, have their own champions. 
Bill Simon, who lost to Davis just eight months ago, is running and his ideas are to free business from most regulation and bring Christian morals back to public life.  Since he ran an awkward campaign last time and is considered a loser, the conservatives may find Tom McClintock attractive.  He's a long-serving state senator with the same positions as Simon, and is always on talk radio.  That might work, if ideas and positions mattered.  And I am asserting they don't.

As proof I submit that President Bush on Friday the 8th said Arnold Schwarzenegger would make a good governor.  Bill Simon's reaction - "The president said last year I'd be a good governor."  Welcome to the real world, Bill.

It's all about image.  You lose.

And that rules out Peter Ueberroth - President of 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee; 1984 Time Magazine Man of the Year; major league baseball commissioner, 1984-89; headed Rebuild Los Angeles after 1992 riots.  He is running, and is the Republican with the best credentials.  Real world experience.  Careful and effective.  But boring.  He's in his mid-sixties and been retired in Laguna Beach for a few years.  Not exactly Mr. Excitement.  No chance.

There is one prominent Democrat running.  Cruz Bustamante, the Lieutentant Governor.  He's been in state government for a decade - a Hispanic family man who is a pleasant fellow, and knows his way around.  But he has no image right now.

No other significant major players are running.  The rest?

The most interesting is Angelyne.  (see www.angelyne.com)  Age: "Ageless"   Occupation: Billboard model, entertainer   Education: Declined to state  Career Highlights: Known for billboard campaign. Featured in more than 43 films and more than 1,000 magazines and televisions shows.  Quote: "We've had Gray. We've had Brown. Now it's time for some blond and pink."

Many of us who live up the way see her driving her pink Corvette convertible here and there.  She's quite a site.  A local legend.

And there's Larry Flynt: President, Larry Flynt Publications. Owner of Hustler Casino. Imprisoned for six months in 1983 for contempt of court. Sponsors Larry Flynt Foundation, which supports research on spinal cord injuries and civil liberties.  "Just because I peddle in porn doesn't mean I'm not concerned about the serious ills all of us are facing."  And this - "I may be paralyzed from the waist down, but unlike Gray Davis, I'm not paralyzed from the neck up." 
And there's porn actress and gubernatorial candidate Mary Carey. "If I don't win, I want Larry Flynt to win."
And there's Leo Gallagher, the comedian who has toured United States since early 1980s; known for smashing watermelons and other produce on stage.  "Anybody can be meat and potatoes; I'm the spice in this election. We're having fun with it. I'm not going to be elected."  Positions?  Require playing the national anthem in Spanish at half of the state's sporting events; force all Californians receiving workers' compensation to be reexamined; ban people from talking loudly in public on their cell phones.
And there's Mathilda Karel Spak who is one hundred years old.  A hospital and senior center volunteer. Limited herself to four days a week after turning 100.  "They're some very important and wealthy people. But I'll fight it out. With my experience at [nearly] 101 years old, I can outlive all of them."  And "I've made plans until 105. Then I'll take things easy."

Here's the rundown of a few of the rest from the Los Angeles Times, edited for obvious reasons.
TV writer Bill Prady, 43, was among some three dozen who filed his papers at the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder's office in Norwalk. He lashed out at the state's politicians for contributing to parody's demise.  "As a person who makes a living off of making mockery," he said, "I resent them intruding into my world."

Lorraine "Abner Zurd" Fontanes, a 41-year-old filmmaker and political satirist from Westwood, is running to document the recall.
Kelly Kimball, 45, and Scott Mednick, 47, each filed to run for governor, hoping to promote "Butt Monkey Beer," which they are marketing to the spring break set.  "You've got guys like us who will run for governor simply to exploit a product," Kimball said.
"This is a monumental moment in history," said Sergio Myers, 34, creator of two MTV reality shows, "Sorority Life" and "Fraternity Life."  He said he was thinking of turning his run for governor into a reality show working title, "The Independent."  He brought his own camera crew along when he filed papers in Norwalk.  He said he hopes to air the show next year. The pitch? "It's the ultimate campaign combined with the ultimate reality show," he said.
Cristobal Emilio Burgoa Franco, a very unemployed actor, wore a button proclaiming "I'm not a big name, just a long name."
Asimo Sondra Lawlor, who took out papers but did not return them, said she's an heir to a trillion-dollar fortune from the Romanov family in Russia and could single-handedly cover the state's multibillion dollar deficit and still have $70 million to spare.

Art Brown, film writer, director, wrote a handful of studio and independent films, including Best Men.  "I absolutely have some genuine issues. I started for publicity, but now that I'm running, I kind of want to run. I want to stir up the pot. I'll debate anyone at any time, and hopefully at least give the voters something to chew on."

Gary Wayne Coleman, the actor who starred as Arnold Drummond in 1970s TV sitcom "Diff'rent Strokes."   "I am the least-qualified man that might do the best job, if I were really running. But I'd say people first, corporations second. I'd send private citizens and investigators to go get California's $38 billion back."

Jim Hoffmann, a high school social studies teacher. "When I signed the petition, I never thought I'd run. But I thought, 'Why not?' I can't do any worse than they're doing. And I teach government, so it's a logical leap."
Gary Leonard, a freelance photographer.  "I'm running because I can. This is history and I wanted to be part of it. I'm serious about doing this, but I'm not serious about winning. I don't think there will be another opportunity to do this and I just couldn't pass it up."
Todd Richard "The Bumhunter" Lewis, a film producer, performer, businessman who appeared as "The Bum Hunter" in 2001 movie "Bumfights." Recently released his own film, "The Bum Hunter."  "People are going to know the Bum Hunter is doing this, and hopefully it will get the young demographic to go out there, support me, register to vote, and be involved in future elections. And it will draw attention to the homeless people; no one realizes how many people are out there."
Shu Yih Liu, CEO of the Stuttz automobile company.  "I don't have any interest in personal fame. I see that there is a big solution for the deficit. California has lost its chi - its aura - and I have the solution. As soon as I am in the position to do so, I will announce plan to solve the problems in California."
And that's only a small sample.

People are frightened and confused and worried here. 
Who will win?

Put your money on the man who looks like he will do something, even if you don't know what that might be.  That's what we did nationally in the last presidential vote.  Trust the image. 

Perhaps I'll move somewhere else.
On the other hand there is Ned Fenton Roscoe.

Ned Fenton Roscoe is the only Libertarian to have qualified for the recall ballot (among a total of 14 candidates overall).  His platform?  Smokers' rights.  "I want to be a candidate for governor so that smokers will get more power," Roscoe said Friday.

Roscoe, of Napa, footed most of the bill for the Proposition 28 campaign in 2000, which aimed to repeal recently imposed tobacco taxes but garnered only 28 percent of the statewide vote.

He's also president of Cigarettes Cheaper! - a national discount-smokes chain.  A sworn enemy of Rob Reiner.
I do smoke a pipe.  Maybe I'll vote for him.


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10 August 2003

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