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If You Squint, He's Clinton With an Austrian Accent

Democrats, give Arnold a chance -- you might even like the guy.

October 10, 2003|Dan Schnur | Dan Schnur, a Republican consultant, was manager of Peter Ueberroth's campaign for governor in the recall election.

The Republicans are coming. In Santa Monica and in West L.A., at lunch at the Ivy and over coffee on San Vicente, you can hear the dread and the anger in the Democrats' voices. It's bad enough for them that the Texan is president. But now California, one of the last Democratic bastions in a country full of Bush-red states, just elected a Republican governor.

There's a darkness on the edge of town.

Few of these newly minted Arnold-haters ever really liked Gray Davis that much to begin with. Bill Clinton couldn't be president forever, and with Dick Cheney and John Ashcroft running the country, California Democrats had looked at Davis as little more than a watchdog to hold the barbarians at the gate until Hillary was ready to run in 2008.

So why are the Westside Democrats so upset? For years, they've said that Republicans didn't understand the importance of the abortion issue. OK, so now the Republican heading toward the governor's office is pro-choice.

They've complained that Republicans didn't get it on guns, gay rights and the environment. But Schwarzenegger is right there with them.

When Clinton first ran for president, he talked about balancing the budget without raising taxes while creating jobs. So did Schwarzenegger. Clinton promised to spend more money on education and stood for a moderate-to-liberal social agenda. So did Schwarzenegger.

Substitute Clinton's Arkansas drawl with Schwarzenegger's Austrian accent, stir in a few bridges to the next century and you'd think it would be difficult for them to find a lot of ideological distance between that moderate Democratic president and this moderate Republican governor.

But for reasons that aren't entirely clear, the Democrats are angry about Arnold. It's no surprise that the professional protesters and campaign workers are riled. Their livelihoods are invested in keeping partisan control of state government. But why in the name of Cruz Bustamante are the Westside Democrats, the Howard Dean and Wesley Clark Democrats, the killing-time-between-Clintons Democrats, so unhappy? What exactly is it about Schwarzenegger that has them so upset?

This isn't Charlton Heston. It's not Tom DeLay. It's not even Tom McClintock. Schwarzenegger lives in Brentwood. He works in Venice. He's even married to a Kennedy. And he's right in the Santa Monica mainstream on that litany of social issues -- on abortion, on gay rights, on gun control -- and every other issue that Westside Democrats attend fund-raisers for. He's against offshore oil drilling. He'll probably save the whales and the dolphins if they ask him to.

So what's the problem? He's got a Humvee. But Dianne Feinstein owns a fleet of SUVs that could transport the 3rd Infantry from Kuwait to Iraq and back again. He supported Proposition 187, but that was almost 10 years ago. He's opposed to giving driver's licenses to illegal immigrants, but so are 60% of the voters who went to the polls Tuesday. It can't be the groping-and-fondling allegations that surfaced last week. Anybody who opposed the Clinton impeachment has long since separated personal conduct from job performance.

The conflicting reports about what Schwarzenegger did or didn't say about Adolf Hitler might have moved some votes. But charges of Nazism ring a little hollow against a man who's donated millions of dollars and countless hours of his time to the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Rabbi Marvin Heir, who has more moral authority in his little finger than the rest of us have in our whole area codes, says Schwarzenegger is just fine.

No, more than anything, the knee-jerk reaction against Schwarzenegger seems like blind partisan loyalty, the type that usually remains the province of professional politicians. When Democratic activists threaten a counter-recall, or when legislators talk about boycotting the new governor's State of the State address, it represents the sort of pettiness and gamesmanship that drove Californians to support a recall in the first place.

But let's leave the bickering and the name-calling to the politicians. Normal citizens, including Californians who have voted Democratic because Republicans ran off the right side of the road, ought to be a bit more thoughtful and a lot more patient.

So give the new guy a chance. And we'll have plenty of time for mindless partisanship next year. The presidential primary is only a few months away.

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