Joe Conason's Journal

Conan the Liberal gets blasted by Rush and others on the far right. What will Karl Rove do now?


Salon Staff
August 9, 2003 2:35AM (UTC)

Conan the "liberal"
Did I mention yesterday that conservatives would be the first to attack Arnold Schwarzenegger for his social liberalism and bawdy style? I did. In fact, the blasts from the right began as I typed those sentences. Leading the pack of disgruntled wingers was Rush Limbaugh, who compared the muscular movie star to that despised Republican-In-Name-Only, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Having commented on Schwarzenegger's "powerfully-packed bikini," El Rushbo now warns against the "conservative orgasms over Arnold Schwarzenegger" because "his own words prove he's not a conservative."

Limbaugh went on to quote from a short, harsh profile on the American Prowler (a right-wing Web site run by the editors of the American Spectator) that described Schwarzenegger as a "tainted celebrity," a candidate "Kennedys could vote for," and worst of all, a "liberal." As might have been expected, the indictment of Arnold includes his support for gay and abortion rights and his denunciation of the Clinton impeachment.

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Newsmax.com, sponsored by Richard Mellon Scaife and run by Christopher Ruddy, turns away momentarily from its usual obsession with Hillary Clinton to blast the Terminator. After quoting extensively from Limbaugh's attack, the Newsmax story gives full vent to Rev. Lou Sheldon. As the gay-bashing chairman of the Traditional Values Coalition, Sheldon believes that Schwarzenegger would create a "moral vacuum" in Sacramento.

"As Governor" he ranted, "Mr. Schwarzenegger would be a darker villain than any he has faced in his movies. And when it comes to the moral issues that Californians really care about -- he gives us inaction not action." Sheldon is cranking up his direct-mail machine with a new letterhead -- "Californians for Moral Government" -- to rally the right-wing opposition.

What seems to offend wingers most is the conceit that Arnold equals Ronald, as in Reagan. Limbaugh and Sheldon both scoffed at that notion -- as did Michael Reagan, talk-radio blowhard and son of the former president. The younger Reagan denounced the Austrian pretender in a Newsmax interview last week.

"All he's got is a name because he's an actor," Reagan groused. "If you want to know the difference between my father and Arnold Schwarzenegger, I'll give you a couple: Maria Shriver/Nancy Reagan is one. There's a big difference politically between them. And number two, Ronald Reagan held the position of running a union, nine times as president of the Screen Actor's Guild, and was active politically for many, many years before he ever delved into elective politics himself when he finally ran for governor. Arnold Schwarzenegger, on the other hand, is nothing but an actor. He has never been a politician and he hasn't given me one reason to vote for him. Vote for him for Actor of the Year? Maybe."

Will Karl Rove, who appears to have engineered the recall campaign and supports Schwarzenegger, be able to herd these disgruntled wingers into line before Oct. 7? Or will those angry conservatives try to revive the "politics of personal destruction" to terminate the Terminator?

Schwarzenegger's supporters are already concerned about his reputation for obnoxious behavior toward women, so it is mystifying, if true, that his campaign has hired Republican consultant Don Sipple. That's the same Sipple exposed by Mother Jones magazine in 1997 for physically abusing two of his wives.

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[3:42 a.m. PST, August 8, 2003]

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