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It’s possibly the oddest, certainly the least expected, twist in one of the more interesting political stories of our time: How did King of the Recall Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger get stopped dead in the water? What the hell happened?
I have no ready and easy answers. Really, I don’t. I think it’s a dangerous and fool-hardy task to try and sum up the governor’s motives and predict his behavior. Many have done so before — remember all those folks who said he wasn’t running even as they sat backstage on the Tonight Show? — and they’ve ended up with egg on their faces.
I prefer to save my yolks.
Part of what’s going on with Schwarzenegger’s bad press is nothing more than the triumph of the state’s permanent political class. See, he’s an actor. Of course he can’t govern. That’s jealousy and, more dangerously, particularly for Democrats, it’s complacency. They think they’ve got the gov where they want him. They might be very wrong.
I’ve said this before: Schwarzenegger likes being underestimated. He considers it a position of strength because it allows him – the strongest of the strong men – to think of new ways of doing things, of new unexpected tactics. That’s what Ali’s rope-a-dope was all about: wearing down your opponent so you could marshal your strength and come out swinging.
But you gotta be strong enough to take it. And that’s much easier said than done. If this is indeed what Schwarzenegger is doing by, among other things, refusing to cancel the November special election, it could work. Democrats can and have raised a lot of money to fight the governor. But they’ve also spent a lot, too. And they’ll need to spend more. But Schwarzenegger can raise money. And he hasn’t spent that much.
More dangerous: There’s a point — as any good salesmen knows — when the pitch is too familiar and it goes unheard. Big Bad Arnold, punisher of nurses, stripper of pensions, bullier of women is a one-note song and it’s been playing for a year now. There are a number of ways Schwarzenegger – the non-political politician — can handle this. Being a movie star first and a governor second gives him a lot of flexibility.
Some of this mess is Schwarzenegger’s fault, however. He walked right into the diminished expectations set by the state’s pols and fulfilled them. The ballot initiatives he’s endorsed are flawed and may not appear on the November ballot.
That’s not deliberate. It’s sloppy and it speaks to either a reliance on the incompetent or a disregard for the political process, neither of which are hallmarks of good government. Schwarzenegger has insisted on Hollywood-like control of his image which makes him look hypersensitive and egomaniacal, a man above the people he claims to be representing. He’s treated Sacramento like a campaign platform — a movie role, really — not a duty, a job or an obligation. His magazine and real estate deals didn’t help remove either of these perceptions. They were and are foolish and short-sighted money grabs of a wealthy man worried about going broke.
If Schwarzenneger wants to run in 2006, he’s going to have to backtrack. Fast. And publicly. Look for the Kennedy touch, coming soon to a Commonwealth Club or Town Hall near you.
Now the beauty of Schwarzenegger is that he can do this. And voters will probably believe him. He’s still, in the end, a movie star. He’s still a powerful and engaging celebrity. But time is almost running out. But he needs to treat the governor’s job as something more than a great, wonderful adventure.

Share  Posted by Chris Nolan at 11:18 AM | Permalink

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