Say what you will about a populist uprising. The California recall was at least partly a backlash to everything soft and fuzzy in the culture. If only unconsciously, The People were motivated more by testosterone and car talk than by budget stats and politics.
Contrary to conventional punditry, they didn't elect Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has no credible qualifications to solve the state's problems, to send a message to career politicians. They didn't elect a Republican to send a message to Democrats
The People, whom we variously worship or hold in contempt depending on our polling needs, elected the Terminator - the biggest, meanest, toughest, take-no-prisoners son-of-a-cyborg hombre who ever strode the Earth, an Extreme Man who protects women (we're talking movies now) and children, and who, when sufficiently piqued, makes weapons out of household objects and reduces enemies to ash.
And that, as the Bond lady says, is "a real mahn" - the father-king come back (he said he'd be back, didn't he?) to rescue the culture from the tyranny of weak sisters, not to mention the rise of machines.
Not incidentally, they also elected a guy who promised to get rid of the recently tripled car tax even if means increasing the state's $8 billion debt. As Schwarzenegger accurately noted: "The public doesn't care about figures."
The public does care about cars, though you have to have lived in California (as I did in the 1980s) to fully grasp the deeper meaning of automobiles. Everyone knows the freeways are jammed and commutes are torturous, but it's more than that.
Californians love their cars - and invest in very nice ones - because they can't afford houses. If you spend much of your time in transit getting to work (it typically took me one hour to travel 10 miles, twice a day) and collapse in a small rental unit at sundown, a car is more than a ride. It's an expression of self, a second skin, a literal mobile home.
Tax it so people can't afford their portable temples anymore, and you're trespassing on holy ground.
Meanwhile, we've entered a new age of masculinity (see Bush administration), both in reaction to the feminization that has gelded American males and in appreciation of what real men do (see 9-11 heroes). The Terminator is a 3-D specimen made of steel where it counts.
This is not a post-election endorsement, by the way, just an observation that may be biased by my extensive exposure to Schwarzenegger movies, thanks to my son John Connor. Indeed. For the record, he's the fourth John Connor in our family, a lineage begun long before "The Terminator" and introduction of the character by that name.
As a family, we've watched every Schwarzenegger action movie more times than is probably psychologically healthy; we know his lines by heart; we love Schwarzenegger the predator, the commando, the destroyer, the barbarian, the eraser, the terminator. The actor.
The problem is Schwarzenegger, I now realize, has never acted a day in his life. As he took the podium to speak in recent weeks, we didn't hear an Austrian-American with an accent, we heard the Terminator. He doesn't shed his role because he has never played one. He was playing himself all along.
In other words, Schwarzenegger is the Terminator, and Californians elected him.
Not that that's necessarily a bad thing. The Terminator has much to recommend him. Among his qualities: a preternatural instinct for assessing friends and enemies; a bold, unequivocal approach to problem solving; a willingness to sacrifice personal interest, even life, for the greater good. A man of action and brawn, he's a man's man and, if only he were human, a guy to tempt a girl's heart.
The ousted Gray Davis, by comparison, summons to the free-associative mind ... pink.
Not even the scandals of Schwarzenegger's groping ways seemed to bother voters. My best answer to the question of why women weren't more offended by the groping allegations in light of Bill Clinton's experience is, timing.
By the time women sallied forth to discuss their close encounters with Schwarzenegger, most Americans were deja-vued out on the issue of politicians' past sexual peccadilloes. The charges also had the unmistakable scent of a political smear, of which we've all had enough already. Love or hate Clinton, no one wants to return to the Starr chamber.
They say all American trends start in California and trickle east. If so, we might expect to see Dems butching up their act for 2004. Wonder who will show up first on a Harley Fatboy, Howard Dean or John Kerry?