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THE BIG PICTURE / PATRICK GOLDSTEIN

Political success is in the stars

October 14, 2003|PATRICK GOLDSTEIN

Californians elected Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger governor last week apparently because in a time of grave economic distress, voting for a Hollywood action hero who symbolizes power and strength represents a statewide rescue fantasy. The easy victory for a movie star with no political experience was an especially cold shower for the big kahunas of the Democratic Party.

Surely the Democrats must be saying, if Schwarzenegger could win nearly 50% of the vote, even with a detail-free policy platform and in the face of accusations of lewd behavior, imagine the possibilities -- couldn't nearly any movie star be taken seriously as a potential adversary in 2006?

But who belongs on the short list? Party pooh-bahs have hastily commissioned a study of possible Hollywood talent from Slick, Krass, Entitlement and Glick, a leading showbiz crisis management firm. Unlike the Bush White House, the Democratic establishment leaks like a sieve, making it easy for The Big Picture to obtain a copy of the memo. Here are excerpts:

Dear party loyalists: Last week was quite a debacle, though look on the bright side. The party did elect a Democratic mayor in Key West, Fla.; granted, his only opposition was a dive captain, a homeless man and a woman who rescues chickens. But in a strange way, the Arnold blitzkrieg actually bodes well for our ability to compete on a statewide level.

Until now, we thought that our most high-profile Hollywood talent were too flaky to ever hold up to public scrutiny. Wrong! As Arnold has proved, celebrities can play by their own rules. All the big-shot political reporters were convinced that allegations of groping and admiring comments about Hitler would put a huge crimp in Arnold's fan base. But if anything, the late-breaking charges earned him a tidal wave of sympathy. Voters seemed far more upset with The Times for airing the misdeeds than with Arnold for acknowledging them.

Lesson learned. Let's not rule out a fresh face just because they have some wife beatings, detox experiences or strip club encounters in their past. I'm not saying we go out and recruit O.J. Simpson. But I wouldn't rule out a charismatic hip-hop star like 50 Cent just because he's been involved in a shootout or two. After all, we have to think about the key young male constituency, who are probably more likely to vote for Busta Rhymes than Cruz Bustamante.

Money talks. Arnold put nearly $10 million of his own fortune into the race. If we go with a Hollywood candidate, we have plenty of $20 million players who can open their wallets and instantly level the playing field. And if money gets us onto the field, it's image that can get us into the end zone. Or as Arnold said about one of his final campaign appearances: "It was a good visual."

According to conventional wisdom, once hard-nosed political reporters got their mitts on Arnold, he would crumble like a bad Schatzi strudel. Well, they proved to be about as scary as Don Zimmer throwing a punch at Pedro Martinez. Arnold ducked them all, proving you could run a gubernatorial campaign pretty much like a summer movie opening! Go to "Leno," "Oprah" and "Larry King Live" and you're home free.

Of course -- and this counts for a lot -- Arnold had a message. Everything he said projected strength and emphasized the notion that he would take charge and get things done. Lesson: We can't nominate someone who's going to dither and prevaricate and refuse to recite slogans from their old movies. I'm not saying we can't run a liberal ticket, but it seems clear from this election that the mood of the California electorate was far more in sync with "L.A. Dragnet" than "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy." We need someone who can match Arnold muscle for muscle, someone who can appear on the programs that really matter to today's disenchanted voters, like "The Man Show" or "The Best Damn Sports Show Period."

I know what you're thinking: easier said than done. But when the voters have an itch, our job is to come up with a candidate who'll scratch it. Here's a look at some interested parties, with a quick take on their strengths and weaknesses:

* Martin Sheen: Upside: Many people think he already is the president.

Downside: Two words: Charlie Sheen.

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* Angelina Jolie: Upside: Might lure Arnold into a groping relapse.

Downside: Her tattoo of California state flag is in a place where the sun doesn't shine.

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* Warren Beatty: Upside: Could win easily if even half his ex-girlfriends bother to vote.

Downside: Might not decide to run till a week after election day.

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* Ben Affleck: Upside: Will promise every Californian a free "Gigli" DVD along with tax rebate check.

Downside: Has threatened to do campaign appearances in "Daredevil" costume.

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* Harvey Weinstein: Upside: New Yorkers will pay millions for him to move to California.

Downside: Oscar voters might boycott the election entirely.

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* Demi Moore: Upside: Could attract a sizable chunk of the young male vote.

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