Jewish World Review Oct. 14, 2003 / 18 Tishrei 5764
Does the election of Ah-nuld mean anything more than the obvious?
There's a balderdash explosion in the media these days as political pundits and spin doctors scramble to find some deeper national meaning to the California gubernatorial recall.
The conventional wisdom on this question shifted overnight. The Old Conventional Wisdom held that California's recall was fun to watch but had no apparent relevance for the rest of the nation. That's just California, OCW said, the wacky state.
But after Gov. Gray Davis lost the recall and Arnold Schwarzenegger swept aside all competitors to be his replacement, the New Conventional Wisdom holds that California is the bellwether state, filled with as much portent as locusts, a burning bush and a pillar of fire.
"Calif. recall a warning for other governors," said one Washington Post headline. "California insurrection puts other politicians on notice," echoed The New York Times.
And spin doctors and candidates from both major parties found ways to spin Schwarzenegger's victory into a sign of good news for President Bush and his Democratic challengers. Whenever that happens, you have to figure that either somebody's lying or both views are canceling each other out.
I still subscribe to the wacky-state theory. I love the Golden State but its recall election was too bizarre--from start to finish--to hold much significance for next year's presidential race, except comic relief.
A lot of pundits similarly tried to find national importance in former wrestler Jesse "The Body" Ventura's fluky 1998 gubernatorial victory in a three-way contest in Minnesota. Four years later, the political independent left office with approval ratings so low that he quite likely would have lost had he run for re-election.
Yes, every state has its embarrassing burdens to bear. So it was with a mixture of wonder and relief that the rest of us saw California's contest come down to a duel between Gov. Bland and Arnold Pinchbottom. Bring out the popcorn.
In one corner, there was the cold-fish Democratic governor, who was so colorless that, up against a beige wall, he disappeared.
In the other corner you had Ah-nuld, the liberal Republican actor with the electric smile, bloated muscles and wandering hands.
The Los Angeles Times took a lot of heat for releasing last-minute investigative stories about Schwarznegger's alleged sexual harassment episodes of the groping kind. He apologized for some of the allegations and denied others, promising NBC anchor Tom Brokaw that he would address the accusations after his election.
The world still is waiting for that confessional session. In the meantime, we now have the entertainment of watching leading Republicans celebrate one of their own who happens to have decidedly liberal views on abortion, gay rights "and all those t'ings," as Arnold would say.
Now Republican spinners praise him, or make excuses for him and even offer up the possibility of Gov.-elect Pinchbottom as an honored guest at next year's Republican National Convention.
Where was all that tolerance, one wonders, when President Bill Clinton was in office?
Gov.-elect Pinchbottom is offered as an example of their "big tent" reaching out to "moderates." Maybe. That's what party leaders said when Republicans won the mayor's office in New York City and the governorship of that state. But the party's right wing still holds sway in the nominating primaries, a process that Schwarzenegger did not have to worry about in the recall election.
The California recall didn't have a primary. It offered open choices to all California voters. They've made their choice. It is theirs to live with, while the rest of us watch. Pass the popcorn.
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