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The Politics of Performance Trump Qualifications in Recall

September 30, 2003|Patt Morrison

I dreamed the other night that I was named to the United States Supreme Court.

I thought it was pretty ridiculous, too, once I woke up. But that's dreams for you -- there's nothing so outlandish that it doesn't seem perfectly plausible, as long as you're sound asleep.

I'm not a judge. I'm not even a lawyer, although I did read a John Grisham novel once, which may be all that it takes these days. And I most definitely do not have a judicial temperament.

My chief qualification must have been that I look good wearing black, although not wearing quite so much yardage as William Rehnquist.

None of that must have made any difference, because there I sat, aglow in the lights of the hearing room of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Ted Kennedy said he loved my shoes. Patrick Leahy wanted to know my all-time best Scrabble score. Orrin Hatch pressed me on my published writings about homeless dogs. If what I got was a grilling, then call me Justice Extra-Rare.

If my clock-radio hadn't gone off when it did, I'd have kept dreaming about how my nomination sailed through the Senate, and that same evening I went on Leno to reveal -- quoting what Arnold Schwarzenegger told Leno about his decision to run for governor -- that accepting the nomination "was the most difficult decision I have made in my entire life, except the one in 1978, when I decided to get a bikini wax." For the record, senator, I opted against the bikini wax.

Why did I have this dream, now? Ask me a hard one. It was about the recall.

If Arnold Schwarzenegger is a week away from being elected governor of the fifth-largest economy in the world, if comedian Dennis Miller's name can be seriously bruited about as our next U.S. senator, then I can become a Supreme.


I'm not against recalls. They're Extreme Democracy. I am against pretending that a recall is pure democracy -- the Will of the People, unless the People all have seven-figure incomes with which to put their out-of-joint noses back into alignment.

And this recall election isn't just about California. Nothing ever is.

We're the Typhoid Mary of trends; when it happens here, someone else is bound to catch it.

Next Tuesday, cutting-edge California goes on the record about how it regards politics and public service. Is it something you do only after you've had a "real" career (like acting)? Something you do when you've got a few million bucks burning a hole in your T-bills? When you have a high enough TVQ to run on image and not on ideas?

(Tell me, someone, do the screenwriters whose lines Schwarzenegger keeps quoting get residuals for this material? When I get on the Supreme Court, I will urge my fellow justices to accept this as a landmark intellectual-property case.)

I've never figured out why we want our athletes to be professional, our stockbrokers and auto mechanics, our generals and cardiologists -- we even like our wrestlers to be pros -- but call yourself a professional politician and you can kiss your red tape goodbye.

Even career pols don't like to call themselves politicians, and politicians from outside D.C. make a point of saying, well, at least I'm not a Beltway insider. Schwarzenegger told an Austrian newspaper that if he wins he won't be living in Sacramento; that's what jets are for. It reminded me of the tales of Nancy Reagan flying back from the unendurable Sacramento to Beverly Hills to get her hair done.

The tourism director in Schwarzenegger's Austrian hometown of Graz marveled to the San Jose Mercury-News that Schwarzenegger's candidacy "wouldn't work here.... You need to be an expert in too many fields to be governor of an Austrian province." And Schwarzenegger told a Sacramento Spanish-language TV station that he loves Mexico, he's made four movies there, and "after this is over, I hope to do more movies there." In his spare time from running the most populous state in the most powerful country in the world?

Just for the sake of argument, forget Schwarzenegger's drugs and sex and rock 'n' roll past. He exaggerated this, shaved the truth about that, was just kidding about the other thing. But what's with the present? It took Schwarzenegger years to get a bachelor's degree; can anyone be governor on the strength of a few months of cramming for the Sacramento SATs? Or is this an act too? He's been thinking about running for governor for at least four years, when he told Talk magazine he was. Has he not given any thought to policies and programs, or is he just pretending that he hasn't, lest we think he's really a politician in a muscle suit?

Oh, those mythic, all-American, Everyman politicians. We love 'em. But who are we kidding? Behind every ordinary, aw-shucks millionaire/celebrity candidate is a furious hunger for power, and legions of professionals eager to wield it, from campaign consultants to lobbyists to pundits and moneyed interests -- the permanent political professional class. It may look like Amateur Night in front of the stage curtain, but it's the Night of the Long Knives behind it.


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