Ronald Reagan was an actor who became governor of California, so why not Arnold Schwarzenegger? Or so the argument goes. Why not actor Gary Coleman, then, or any of the other candidates for whom inexperience, not to mention cluelessness about what's needed to repair the damage done to the state's economy, seems to be their main qualification?
President George Bush has endorsed Schwarzenegger, saying he would make a good governor. Based on what? The president couldn't possibly know what Schwarzenegger stands for, because no one else seems to know, including Arnold.
At least he has his lines down. In rapid-fire TV appearances following his "Tonight" show announcement that he is a candidate should voters recall Gov. Gray Davis, Schwarzenegger lamented the exodus of businesses from the state and said something must be done to get them back. Would he cut taxes and reduce the regulations that caused them to flee? He didn't say. According to the Center for Continuing Study of the California Economy in Palo Alto, between January 2001, and January 2003, California lost 223,900 private-sector jobs, but government jobs rose by 121,700. Can he reverse that trend? He's not saying - yet.
What about social issues such as same-sex "marriage"? "I don't want to get into that right now, "Schwarzenegger told ABC's "Good Morning America." He has advocated reversing the car tax increase - an issue former Virginia Gov. James Gilmore rode to victory in the '90s - but he also wants to spend more on school construction and hire more teachers.
Schwarzenegger seems to think he can take advantage of voter distrust and disgust with Davis by focusing on the embattled governor and not himself. That may work for the first week or two, but Arnold is going to have to come up with a platform that is more substantive than "I'm not Gray Davis." His aides say one will be forthcoming.
Contrast Schwarzenegger with Ronald Reagan. By the time Reagan ran for governor in 1966 (winning by a 1 million-vote margin), his political philosophy had matured. He converted from Democrat to Republican while president of the Screen Actors Guild during debates about the alleged influence of communism in the film industry. He toured the country under the auspices of General Electric, which sponsored his TV show. But Reagan's philosophy began evolving much earlier. In a soon-to-be-published book of his letters compiled by longtime aide and family friend, Martin Anderson, Reagan expresses interest in the world around him as early as age 11.
Reagan's former attorney general and top California aide, Ed Meese, recalls that before Reagan decided to run for governor, he made a series of 10-minute talks around the state, followed by a question-and-answer session that lasted an hour. Meese tells me, "(Reagan) studied briefing books about state government and how it was organized and then he told people what he would do."
Schwarzenegger is part of a political family, but it's the Kennedy family. He is a social liberal and is bound to disappoint conservative Republicans, even if he is the GOP's only hope for getting back in power in Sacramento. Schwarzenegger not only supports abortion on demand, but homosexual adoption and what he has called "sensible gun controls." His political baptism occurred last year when he successfully pushed for a series of before- and after-school programs that will, according to some estimates, cost California taxpayers up to $455 million annually.
After the impeachment of President Bill Clinton, Schwarzenegger seemed to express disgust with the process, saying in a George magazine interview in 1999, "That was another thing I will never forgive the Republican Party for." Another thing? What else is there for which you will not forgive your party, Arnold?
The Schwarzenegger candidacy reminds me of a 50-year-old movie, "A Face in the Crowd," in which some political opportunists take a country hick (played by Andy Griffith) and attempt to turn him into a political powerhouse so he can become president with them pulling his strings.
Schwarzenegger is probably more sophisticated than that film character, but does he have any convictions that differentiate him from Davis and much of the rest of the pack?
To paraphrase the late Desi Arnaz, another actor with a thick accent: Arnold, you've got a lot of 'splainin' to do. You are no Ronald Reagan.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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