SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- I suppose it would have been in bad taste for staffers to repeat that old show-biz saw, "Break a leg," to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger before his inauguration. The guv's doctor told him to keep his leg elevated and stay off his feet as he recovers from surgery for a broken femur. That's why the governor missed Thursday's pre-inaugural festivities.
Spokeswoman Julie Soderlund had billed the Thursday event as "The Environment Meets Business."
I'd call it: PG&E backslaps the NRDC (National Resources Defense Council). And the NRDC kicks back with the GOP -- instead of Al Gore. Booths at the big-tent event celebrated California carrots, children walked away with celery sprouts, while rows of booths offered pencils and stickers for new energy technologies. The Hummer governor was promoting "zero emissions" vehicles.
Everywhere you looked, you saw Hollywood's favorite color: green, a fitting motif for a big-business governor with an environmental script.
I asked Soderlund if some political consideration led Team Arnold to want to keep a post-surgery Schwarzenegger out of the spotlight, just as President Franklin Delano Roosevelt kept his wheelchair use hidden from the general public. Soderlund laughed and answered, "No."
Whatever. In this town, aides know how to spin even a broken bone. As one aide told me, Schwarzenegger really did get hurt -- the bigger they are, the harder they fall.
Voters, though, simply aren't used to a destructible Schwarzenegger. In the Terminator movies, only molten metal could fell him. In "Total Recall," the action hero was completely disfigured one moment, then hunky and hunky-dory the next.
So it was a publicist's nightmare when the "Running Man" got hurt -- not speeding through slalom gates, but while standing still -- when his ski pole got stuck under his ski.
There was a time when voters wanted their politicians to look like regular folk. But in today's California, voters take it for granted that the governor appears unnaturally young for 59. Two decades ago, critics made fun of Ronald Reagan's unnaturally dark hair. Now, it's no longer worthy of comment when a male politician dyes his hair -- unless partisans can argue that he got a bad dye job. Gubernatorial opponent Phil Angelides once quipped that Schwarzenegger's hair "looked like it was dipped in Tang."
And here's another sign of Sacramento going show business. Former Gov. Gray Davis -- whom Schwarzenegger helped recall from office -- is an inaugural committee co-chair. It's like Tom Cruise inviting Brooke Shields to his latest wedding after their public spat about her use of antidepressants. Actually, it's like Shields showing up at the Cruise-Holmes wedding.
In politics, there are no stunt doubles, only lieutenant governors and first ladies. With the big star notably absent, first lady Maria Shriver told the audience that in her husband's next term -- T2 -- California "can lead not only the United States, but really the whole world" in fuel efficiency.
That's great. Will one of the governor's four Hummers head the caravan? Maybe that's what Team Arnold meant in billing the event as a Kick-Off at Capitol Park: "Leading the Green Dream." The key word here is: dream.
Conspicuous consumption masquerades as fuel-efficiency. In Hollywood and in Sacramento, what matters is not what you personally do about the environment, but that you personally really care about the environment. When Shriver told the crowd to drive more fuel-efficient cars, she was all script, no plot.
Or as new Assemblyman Mark DeSaulnier said, "It's all guilt."