Leave it to a movie star to come up with a stunning plot twist. Arnold Schwarzenegger has to be credited with pulling off one of the biggest surprises in state political history by throwing his headband into the ring.
It appears he deliberately misled some of his own political advisors, who had been saying that the actor was unlikely to run. The question is, can he mislead enough Californians into believing that he is the one to rescue the state from an unprecedented financial crisis and set it on a path back to its former glory? At the moment, most Californians apparently don't think so; a recent Los Angeles Times poll found that 53% of registered voters were not inclined to vote for him.
Making his announcement on Jay Leno's "The Tonight Show" rather than a legitimate news venue was an insult to everyone who takes politics and California's problems seriously, indicating a candidacy more about self-promotion than public service. Likewise his flip remark that the decision to run was his most difficult since deciding to get a bikini wax in 1978, something that millions of Californians who are in real pain and looking for proven leadership must have found hilarious.
Schwarzenegger will undoubtedly pump up his performance on the stump as the campaign progresses, but his press conference outside the NBC studios in Burbank was pedestrian.
Of course Schwarzenegger is an amateur politician, one who may have many voters asking where's the beef, as opposed to the beefcake. In a celebrity-obsessed society, the candidacy of a movie star with little political and no government experience may not seem so absurd in more tranquil times, but when the state is hanging by its fingertips over a pit of fiscal calamity?
Comparisons between Schwarzenegger and Ronald Reagan are both ludicrous and an affront to those who revere the former governor and president. Not only did Reagan pilot the Screen Actors Guild during one of the most tumultuous eras in its history, he also immersed himself in politics and public policy long before running to be chief executive of California.
Reagan also had something else that Schwarzenegger may not have: a thick hide for the indignities of the campaign trail. In the weeks leading up to the recall election, Schwarzenegger will learn that the inquisitors of the political press corps bear no resemblance to the fawning posterior-kissers who populate the celebrity beat. Then there will be the inevitable tabloids.
He doesn't even compare with his "Predator" co-star Jesse Ventura, who was a real-life action hero as a Navy SEAL in Vietnam and served four years as mayor of Brooklyn Park, Minn., before running for governor of that state. If Ventura is known for the line, "I ain't got time to bleed," from "Predator," Schwarzenegger seems to be saying, "I ain't got time to pay my political dues."
Schwarzenegger's candidacy will not be embraced by California's conservatives. Like former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan (who had been leading Schwarzenegger in the polls), the actor -- who is pro-choice, supports adoption rights for gay couples and is pro-gun control -- is actually a Democrat in a Republican loincloth. He once said he was ashamed of Republicans who voted for the impeachment of President Clinton.
Republicans also have to ponder the possibility of Schwarzenegger winning and being a disastrous governor. That would put a Democrat back in the top job in 2006, returning state Republicans to the political wilderness for the foreseeable future.
If Davis is recalled and the choice of an alternative is determined by name recognition alone, Schwarzenegger would win. But if Californians recognize the need for deft leadership by an experienced politician who can navigate the mazes of government, there are enough viable alternatives to prevent the actor who debuted in "Hercules in New York" from appearing in a new production called "Neophyte in Sacramento."