Political pundits don't have much to talk about during the dog days of summer when even the president of the United States goes on a month-long vacation, so it's lucky for us Arnold Schwarzenegger is running for governor in California. Now, news junkies can spend the rest of August watching their favorite talking heads debate whether the Terminator is a closet liberal, an anti-immigrant immigrant or if he has the proper gravitas to govern what most non-Californians regard as the wackiest state in the Union.
Let me put my cards on the table. I think the California recall law is a terrible idea. Barring malfeasance in office, elected officials should be allowed to serve out their terms. If there is to be a recall, there ought to be sufficient time for political parties to pick their own candidates for the ballot. Why shouldn't Republicans decide if Arnold is their man and Democrats pick their guy (or gal), too? Of course that would probably leave the other 150 candidates -- including a porn star, a 100-year-old hospital volunteer and former child actor Gary Coleman -- out in the cold, but so what?
My arguments, however, are moot. There will be a recall election on Oct. 7, and, if current polls among California voters hold, Gray Davis will be out, and Arnold will become the state's next governor. Then again, politics is unpredictable, especially in California. Schwarzenegger still has a lot of work ahead of him.
So here, Arnold, is my unsolicited advice on what you have to do to win.
First, don't spend a lot of money on political consultants who will try to make you someone you're not. People already like you and think they know you, which is why they all call you Arnold, even if they've never laid eyes on you in the flesh.
Don't run away from positions you've taken in the past just because you think it might hurt your chance to be elected. Journalists are busy digging up old quotes they want to nail you with. The worse thing to do is flip-flop. If you supported Proposition 187 to deny welfare benefits to illegal aliens, don't try to run away from it now in the hopes of wooing Latinos. If you're pro-choice and pro-gun control, stick with those positions even if conservatives don't like it. Fudging will simply make you look untrustworthy. Voters don't have to agree with you on every issue, but they need to know where you stand.
Ignore the demands that you give lengthy interviews to political reporters or go on the network political talk show circuit. Journalists are miffed that you've spent more time talking to Jay Leno than Tim Russert and that you've given "Access Hollywood" more time than the "Lehrer Newshour." You're not the first would-be California governor who talked over the heads of the political powerbrokers directly to the voters. The snobs didn't think much of Ronald Reagan, either, but the people loved him.
Talk to Milton Friedman, the Nobel-winning economist whose free market theories you reportedly embrace. Friedman may be the smartest man alive, at least when it comes to understanding the economy, and if anyone can help you figure out a way to turn California's abysmal economy around, he can. Of course, he'll tell you to lower taxes, which you ought to do if you win. You keep saying you want to bring business back to California -- lowering taxes is probably the surest way to do it.
Keep your sense of humor. Your ability to laugh at yourself will make those who want to laugh at you look mean-spirited. Politics is filled with pompous jerks and policy wonks who have no common sense and the charisma of turnips. You don't need to know the entire California code or the ins and outs of every state agency to run the state, but you do need to know what you want to accomplish. Pick a few things you want to do, and don't be drawn into endless debate about every issue under the sun.
Thankfully, this election will be short, barely seven weeks long. For pure entertainment value, it sure beats watching summer re-runs or trying to figure out which Democratic presidential aspirant is going to implode next.