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31 August 2003
Political Theater of the Absurd: Act I
California Split

For the first act in our seamy political farce, we sail for the Pacific, where the citizens of a state that can’t pay its bills turn to — a Ph.D. in economics, as an East Asian society might do? Of course not. A crisis demands an action hero and, even if the real heroes have been shipped off to Islamic deserts, the image is better than reality. Yep, our celluloid-loving Californians look to Arnold to gun down their troubles the way he iced all those bad guys in Commando.

As a real-life politician Arnold makes as easy a target as his Commando character is bulletproof. But his enemies are already making the mistake of trying to smear him based on past sexual adventures. If the Clinton era taught us anything, it’s that the machismo-venerating populace would rather see its leader as phallic than chaste. Focusing on Arnold’s sexual mythology is the quickest way to ensure his election (or is that the point?)

Let’s face it: When the pants are down, Schwarzenegger is unbeatable. However, on the one issue that dwarfs all others in California — the ongoing deficit — Schwarzenegger looms about as large as DeVito.

At Arnold’s official Web site, the generalities are glittering: “To stop the flow of jobs from California, Arnold plans to unchain business from over taxation and over regulation. Bringing businesses back to California will provide the jobs people need so we can pay for good schools, safer streets and a cleaner environment.” Great sentiments. But let’s get real. Business-friendly policies are never about “creating jobs.” Business conservatism is cheap-labor conservatism. If anything, the best way to keep businesses in the state would be to adopt policies that threw even more people out of work, ensuring a large and desperate labor pool ripe for exploitation.

But, that aside, the gravest danger to the business climate in America’s most populous state is the recall itself. Pacific Rim investors must be shuddering over the state’s continued instability and nosediving credit rating. Contrary to “invisible hand” propaganda, markets are not free; they thrive under strong but fair and predictable regulation in conditions of electoral and fiscal stability. Californians’ collective decision to forgo maturity in favor of the Hollywood spectacle of the recall election (complete with porn personalities who lend the affair its only claim to “adult” status) is more likely to induce job flight than any decision regarding the budget or taxation.

But, before we cede the Democrats the electoral high ground based on the emergence of Cruz Bustamante as the party’s backup to the beleaguered Gray Davis, we must ask: Is Bustamante’s candidacy based on anything more valuable than Schwarzenegger’s? Frankly, it doesn’t look all that golden.

Appearing on today’s Face the Nation, Bustamante read the voters’ thoughts: “We want to hear your ideas very specifically,” he had Californians saying. Later he reiterated his commitment to giving “specific details” about how he would get California out of its fiscal mess. However, he didn’t actually get around to giving any.

If Arnold’s appeal is based merely on the efficacy of his movie persona, in the absence of any evidence of the real, live Schwarzenegger’s superheroic ability to clean out the Sacramento Stables, Bustamante‘s candidacy seems to be built on little more than ethnic affiliation. Tesas Democrats tried playing the Latino card in their last goober-natorial effort with unlovely results. With the necessity only of gaining a plurality, Bustamante may be counting on the state‘s Latinos to support him just for the chance to elect California‘s first Hispanic governor. But unless he starts living up to his own rhetoric and gets specific with the issues, he may not Cruz to election — or if he does win he may find he lacks the legitimacy to govern.

But then governance is such a chore. It’s so much more natural for Calfornians to focus on the spectacle. And with a plethora of minor candidates the few who have dared to get specific, such as Arianna Huffington, are lost among the publicity hos. Meanwhile, despite having to resort to funny accounting and risking further damage to the state’s credit rating, Gov. Davis and the Democratic legislature seem to have passed a budget for the coming fiscal year. A year from now, will Arnold, Cruz, or whoever succeeds Davis the Unlucky be able to pull off the same trick?

Act II
Tom DeLay  •  Rick Perry 
Gonzalo Barrientos
The Unforgiven

Texas Democrats vamoose to the high desert while the Grand Old Posse tries to round ’em up. But are there any good guys in this overlong Western?

Judge Roy Moore is
The Apostle

A misbegotten epic, this Moore vehicle attempts to remake The Ten Commandments but comes off more like a pale Forrest Gump.

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