Joe Conason's Journal

Why are Republicans happy about Arnold -- but cry treason when lefty celebs get political?

Published August 7, 2003 8:15PM (EDT)

California dreamin' -- but someday they'll wake up
Weren't the Republicans just telling us the other day that celebrities should keep their mouths shut about politics? Didn't they blast the Dixie Chicks, Janeane Garofalo, Sean Penn, Susan Sarandon and every other artist who spoke out about the war in Iraq? Wasn't the argument that fame doesn't confer experience, wisdom or competence?

Obviously that was then -- and today is Arnold. Of course, he's no longer a B-movie actor or ex-bodybuilder -- he's a "businessman" now. And like all businessmen he believes that there could be nothing simpler than straightening out the government with a loud voice and a spreadsheet. As Schwarzenegger explained to Jay Leno, he's going to "clean house" in Sacramento, presumably without the use of any automatic weapons or runaway semi trucks.

Today's best capsule story profile reacting to his surprise "Tonight Show" announcement appears in the L.A. Times. Among the astonished viewers were not only the actor's advisors but Richard Riordan, the former Los Angeles mayor and Republican moderate who believed his close friend Schwarzenegger would defer to his ambitions. (Hasta la vista, Dick!) Schwarzenegger's sudden announcement must infuriate Darrell Issa (who weepily dropped out today), Bill Simon Jr., and all the other wing nuts who have spent time and millions promoting the recall. So scared of him that they've rolled over and peed on their bellies like submissive hounds, as Gene Lyons would say, those conservative candidates all now claim to be "welcoming" his entry into the contest. Still, I suspect that the state's conservatives will soon attack Arnold. His liberal attitudes toward abortion and gay rights are intolerable to the Republican right (whose Clinton-hating crackpot wing is also likely to remember his denunciations of impeachment and Kenneth Starr).

For Schwarzenegger, the most unfortunate conclusion to a race with scores or even hundreds of candidates could be "victory." Ill-equipped to govern, lacking a mandate, and facing the same problems that are undoing Gray Davis, he may end up in the same category as his old pal from "Predator," Jesse Ventura -- whose popularity plunged after Minnesotans realized what they had done to themselves by electing him.

Meanwhile, as Schwarzenegger and dozens of other Californians mutter mindless denunciations of "politicians," the man who should have been president demonstrated one of the virtues of political experience by delivering a superb speech in New York. Aside from offering a powerful summary of the flaws of his former rival's administration, Al Gore said again that he is not running against Bush and will eventually endorse one of the Democrats who is. All of them should listen carefully to what Gore said today. He isn't an actor, a bodybuilder or a businessman -- but he actually knows what he's talking about.
[1:22 p.m. PST, August 7, 2003]

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By Salon Staff

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