The Recall

Posted: Aug 11, 2003 12:00 AM

WASHINGTON -- In the 1950s, when Doris Day, prim and perky and squeaky clean, was starring in romantic comedies, the mordant Oscar Levant said, ``I knew Doris Day before she was a virgin.'' Washington knew Arianna Huffington before she was a left-wing populist.

But in politics as in other fields of fashion, standards of chic change, and it is as a Huey Long from the upper crust that millionaire Huffington is seeking to make of herself a gift, as governor, to California's downtrodden. Can it be just eight years ago that she was living here, toiling to establish a salon for like-minded surfers on the rising -- or so she thought -- wave of Newt Gingrich's brand of conservatism? ``Why Newt Must Run," she wrote in the Nov. 27, 1995, Weekly Standard, urging a presidential candidacy.

Multiple epiphanies later, including one that revealed to her Jesus' automotive preferences (not an SUV), she is a Schwarzeneggerean. But, then, who isn't nowadays?

Asked on ``Today'' whether he favored California's paid family leave law, the only such law in the nation, Arnold Schwarzenegger, the supposed reincarnation of Ronald Reagan, said:

``I -- I will have to get into that. I mean, because, as you know, I'm very much for families, I'm very much for children and children's issues and all that stuff. I think that the children should have the first call in our treasury. This is the -- the most precious resource that we have. We have to think about the future of the state. Children are the most important thing, and we have to help the families.''

There. Did all that stuff clarify things?

Schwarzenegger's achievement may be to simultaneously increase the testosterone level and the feminization of American politics. ``Children'' are the trump card in the deck of those whose eight-word political philosophy is, ``I am for limited government, but the children ...''

It seems mean to interrupt Schwarzenegger's hug of California's children, but about paid family leave: Asked on ``Good Morning America'' whether he would favor raising taxes as part of a solution to California's budget crisis, Schwarzenegger said he favored neither raising taxes nor cutting programs, but instead would ``bring businesses back to California.'' Ah, but one reason businesses are fleeing is the multiplication of government-imposed costs, such as paid family leave. Concerning which ...

Never mind.

By encouraging facile comparisons with Reagan, Schwarzenegger's candidacy will seem to validate the dismissive assessments of Reagan as an empty suit whose smile was his political philosophy. In fact, Schwarzenegger could hardly be less like Reagan, a ``conviction politician" who ran for governor in 1966 after having honed his political thinking over more than a decade of constant public advocacy.

Schwarzenegger will have to take a position on the Racial Privacy Initiative -- also on the Oct. 7 ballot -- that would disrupt the racial spoils system by preventing the state from gathering most racial information from citizens. Will Schwarzenegger say that is good or bad for ``the children''?

``Every cook has to learn how to govern the state,'' said Lenin when he was still pretending to believe what Marx said about the state withering away. Gov. Gray Davis, under whom California's government has waxed, is a political lifer who started out as Gov. Jerry Brown's chief of staff. Davis is emblematic of today's careerism: last year The New Republic reported that 131 members of Congress -- almost one in four -- began as staffers. Davis has given ``experience'' a bad name.

And Schwarzenegger is intelligent enough to be a successful entrepreneur and to be bored making silly movies. He is intelligent enough to be governor. But Jimmy Carter and Richard Nixon -- and Lenin, for that mater -- were intelligent.

Truly conservative Californians -- you few know who you are -- will vote against the recall to protest its plebiscitary cynicism. And as a precaution they will take the time required to find in the lottery-determined listing of names the name of a conservative candidate.

However, if in a few weeks Davis seems a certain loser, muscular Democratic interests, none of which are tied to him by cords of affection, might successfully pressure him to resign. Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, who is a candidate to succeed him, would become governor, the recall would deflate and the Democratic Party's condign punishment probably would be to continue wrestling with the problems it has created or exacerbated.