By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
|Photo by Stephan Savoia/AP|
If Schwarzenegger’s such an entertainer, how come Planet Hollywood failed?Jay Leno — now here were two jaws you could use to crush boulders — you saw instantly why he’d won such a smashing victory. Strutting confidently and grinning with pleasure more genuine than any he’d shown in the previous eight weeks, Duh Guvenuh radiated the qualities to which Californians feel entitled: star power, optimism and fun.
True, he hadn’t said anything substantive on the campaign trail (indeed, a full two-thirds of his supporters acknowledged that fact). True, his key backers were developers, corporate millionaires, and political hacks covered in the nasty spoor of Pete Wilson. No matter. Schwarzenegger’s mere presence in the race had made California feel exciting and hopeful again. He helped us upstage Iraq! All talk of Hitler aside (the Daily Show’s Stephen Colbert jokingly accused him of groping Der Führer), Ahnold came across as a leader. Or at least a guy more likely to make things happen than bums like Gray Davis and Cruz Bustamante, who, in a hugely liberal state, offered the electorate nothing compelling to vote for. Even Twisted Sister started to look good. If the actor’s campaign contained the implicit promise that "Everything is possible," the Democratic Party essentially replied, "No, it’s not. Now, take your medicine and vote for somebody who even we hold in contempt." There could be no joy in such a vote, only self-disgust.
The entire emotional atmosphere of the state changed Tuesday night. Gropegate lost its sting (except to those Arnold had degraded), and the political stars shifted their alignment. Watching Arianna snipe away at Schwarzenegger on the post-speech telecasts — before he’d done anything except convince millions of voters to believe in him — you realized that our liberal left (which couldn’t muster a single good candidate in a state that’s 60 percent for it) was being as clueless as usual. The majority of Californians will turn on those who have nothing to offer but criticism. Finally paying attention to state politics (however goofily), they want Arnold to succeed.
Of course, the voters’ idea of success may differ from Schwarzenegger’s own, whose most striking feature is its obvious obsession with power: What he admires about Hitler isn’t the Holocaust but the hero-worship business. This has been clear from the early days, when Arnold resembled the ambitious provincial hero of a 19th-century European novel. You have to be impressed by the discipline and shrewdness with which he has pursued his goals, whether popping steroids and doing endless reps to build up his undersize calves or cannily using his comical accent ("Fuck you, asshohr!") to help turn a laughable, almost unpronounceable name into a worldwide brand. Knowing that a largely apolitical electorate wants nothing more than to be led, he used his undeniable record of hard work and achievement to offer voters a soaring idea of "leadership" free of the ballast of saying where he would actually lead us.
In that sense, his politics are just like his movies. While I’ve often enjoyed him onscreen — The Terminator wouldn’t have been nearly as original without his robotic vibe — what’s striking about his film work is that, like his campaign, it’s resolutely content-free. Although he tried to model his career on Clint Eastwood’s, shifting between action pics and comedies, the two stars couldn’t be more different. Where Eastwood spent 30 years exploring ideas of masculinity, violence, social justice and his own persona as a screen idol, the only meaning you find in Schwarzenegger’s movies is his desire to make money and increase his stardom; all his mystic rivers lead back to his own greater glory. Indeed, his famous self-reinventions have been about nothing larger than repositioning himself in the marketplace. For those terrified of a Schwarzenegger governorship, this is probably reassuring news. Arnold’s too pragmatic to be a right-wing ideologue.
In fact, it’s no surprise that Schwarzenegger finally stonewalled less on his sexual past than he did on his plans for California. He doesn’t have any (auditing the books doesn’t count), and his political ideas are as shallow as his movies. His run for office brilliantly tapped into public anger about politicians — although I might have killed myself if I had to hear him quote from Network one more time — but witnessing his exultation during his victory celebration, you could see that he didn’t really feel that anger any more than he was fascinated with overseeing state pension plans. For finally, his decision to run had nothing to do with principles, policies or even California. It was all about himself, which means that he’s actually a lot like, well — Gray Davis.
Grope TherapyWhen the Schwarzengroper story broke in last Friday’s L.A. Times, the candidate promptly adopted the puzzling "Where there’s smoke, there’s fire" defense. (So there’s more?) No matter, the universal awareness of Arnold’s sexual thuggery turned the days before the election into a bad-faith jamboree. Liberals who once defended Bill Clinton were suddenly treating Arnold as Caligula, drawing vast distinctions between a president being rimmed by a dim college-age intern in the Oval Office and a gubernatorial candidate pulling a woman on his lap and asking if she’s ever had a man stick his tongue up her backside. Such a refined moral calculus would bring tears to the eyes of Immanuel Kant.