If Gray Davis is replaced as governor by Arnold Schwarzenegger, chalk it up as a Hollywood victory of illusion over substance. It's an illusion exploited by the state's right-wing Republican leadership, which has rejected one of its own, Tom McClintock, for an actor whose political program, beyond the one-liners, is virtually unknown.
There still is no Schwarzenegger we can claim to know other than his violent -- or at times charming but simple-minded -- movie characters invented by screenwriters, directors and publicists. He has experienced no real-life military action much beyond negotiating one of his many Hummers down Santa Monica's swanky Montana Avenue.
Considering the massive quasi-military vehicles he owns, Schwarzenegger apparently enjoys playing at war off and on the screen. Compare this with Davis, who was awarded the Bronze Star for his real-life role in Vietnam as a captain in the U.S. Army. Thankfully, military service is not a requirement for office, but it does seem odd that for many phony patriots you score points for battle experience only if you're a Republican.
And though Davis has never made a big deal about his Army record, Schwarzenegger trades lavishly on his celluloid image of toughness, as he blared in a campaign appearance Sunday: "This is now hand-to-hand combat. We are not in the trenches. This is war." Speaking of Davis, Arnold intoned, "It is time to terminate him."
Yet there's no evidence that he has made hard choices in matters of principle, even in his movie or weightlifting careers. For example, in explaining a boastful claim of participating in group sex in a gym, he now claims it was all a lie to promote himself and his industry. Later in his career, he read from the scripts that paid the big money, but if he had any qualms about the social effect of the senseless movie violence in them, we haven't heard them.
What script will he read from now, who will do the writing, and will he again freely lie to advance his career? He has pledged firm allegiance to the Bush White House, never mentioning the 3 million jobs lost nationally and $500 billion in red ink run up under this administration. Nor has he uttered a word of criticism of Bush's Texas cronies who so ruinously gamed the California energy market
Schwarzenegger's campaign is run largely by veterans of former Gov. Pete Wilson's administration, and if he wins, he is expected to turn to Wilson for advice on filling the top state jobs and on future judicial appointments. Aside from having raised taxes and unemployment dramatically, the Wilson years are best remembered for the divisive campaigns against undocumented immigrants and welfare mothers. Does Schwarzenegger, who claims to be so interested in the welfare of kids, realize that millions of them who are poor were hurt by Wilson's policies?
Schwarzenegger's political scriptwriters are pro-big business and fervently anti-labor. This is a candidate who takes campaign money from powerful corporate players but blasts unionized workers, including those in law enforcement and fire departments, as reprehensible special interests. In a recent interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, he attacked Davis for reinstating the eight-hour workday and provisions for overtime pay, as well as signing the family leave law.
Schwarzenegger admits that he does not plan to even begin a study of the budget until after he is elected, but he insists that the budget can be trimmed not by cutting needed programs but by cutting only waste. That is nonsense.
Waste to one bloc of voters is an essential program to others. For example, I consider Davis' lavish spending on California prisons a waste of money. But those prisons and the tough job of guarding their inhabitants are necessitated by a rigid law-and-order agenda under which huge numbers of men and women were imprisoned, often for minor drug offenses -- an agenda promoted by the former GOP governors. How hypocritical that Davis' toeing the line on that issue and the widespread support he has earned from law enforcement has cut him no slack with conservatives.
Ironically, in Schwarzenegger's one foray in political action, he pushed through a liberal initiative that promised to guarantee after-school programs for kids otherwise left to the vices of the street. But because he would not face the difficult choices required by budget priorities, the law has yet to provide funding to help a single child. His campaign for governor -- like his campaign for kids -- is just another slick actor's pose.