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The Strongest Men In America

by Paul Heller Sunday, Aug. 10, 2003 at 9:45 AM

Arnold and Colin: A Contrast in Options

I know everyone has this odd desire today to read about Arnold Schwarzenegger. You want the puns, the plays on words, the quoted lines from scripts we all know. It took only a few minutes for the most obvious, "The Running Man", to hit the news. Now it's almost a shameless competition. If he loses the race for the California governor's office, will he exit by saying, "I'll be back"? If he refuses to commute a death sentence (a rare but still plausible scenario in the Golden State), will the press dub him "The Terminator"? Let's stop there.

Arnold is quite simply unfit to be the governor of California. That's why he'll win. And the people will love him, despite the fact that his only political experience came as the first George Bush's Health and Fitness czar. So the chances are good that, provided Arnold wins the election, the fat teenagers of the Left Coast will soon be whipped into shape, but what about their sagging economy, their bloated budget, their seizure-prone utility regulations and parched cities?

Conservatives who actually would like to be taken seriously about Arnold's candidacy point obliquely to Ronald Reagan. Reagan was governor of California back when California was manageable. And he really didn't even do a very good job of it. For one thing, the way he alienated Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, through his shabby treatment of Cesar Chavez and the AFL-CIO, still resonates with the population of Southern California. That's about to become a problem, as Hispanics will soon no longer be the minority there. Reagan's divisive legacy could very well come back to nip his party in the bud. What will Arnold's contribution be again?

Jesse Ventura isn't even a good comparison, because he governed Minnesota, a beautiful state with a lot of lakes and forests and a population commensurate with its miserable climate. California is exactly the opposite of that. It's far too complex of a job for any novice to step into, and that's why he'll win, and that will actually be a good thing for Californian politics. Not that the slimy conservative opportunists who waged this recall war against recently re-elected Governor Grey Davis wanted it that way; it happens to be a side effect of human nature, seldom seen in these times.

Californians will not see one single aspect of their prospects, economic, social or otherwise, change to due to Schwarzenegger's victory. But they'll give the Austrian-born governor (we're assuming, remember) a pass on the mess he inherited. And then, finally, with the whole thing having backfired on the Republican power brokers who thought they might benefit from their actions, everyone in California will be able to just take a deep breath. Then it will finally hit the Republicans that they have just put a Union guy in office, a member of the Screen Actors Guild, no less... and a member by marriage of the Kennedy family.

Meanwhile, a perfectly qualified political figure, one who once had Americans thinking about having a non-white President, is quietly walking away. The only problem is that someone leaked it to the press. Colin Powell, it was reported earlier this week, would not return for a second stint as Bush's Secretary of State should Bush retain his job after the November 2004 elections, something about a promise he made to his wife. Also resigning would be his deputy, Dick Armitage. Then came the damage control, with both sides asserting that the rumors were untrue. Yet when asked directly about it, Powell stuck to his tag line, "I serve at the pleasure of the president." And Bush's spokesparrot, Scott McLellan, refused to give a simple "yes" answer when asked if Powell and Armitage would be back in the event of a second term.

My guess, since I have to take one, is that Powell told Bush quite a while ago that he could not go on in this fashion, with every doctrine he ever believed in (learned under the callous knee of Ronald Reagan) being utterly steamrolled by the administration's more stringent factions. Yet Powell, who likes to maintain the aura of a dignitary, probably assured Bush that he would keep the cat in the bag. Bush had no choice but to keep a lid on the story, because he knows better than anyone else that without Colin Powell, there is no moderate support. For a man who lost the popular vote last time out, that can't be a good feeling.

Some of the names that are being floated as Powell's replacement should send chills down any concerned American's spine. Newt Gingrich was one. Donald Rumsfeld's pit bull, Paul Wolfowitz, is actually the frontrunner. The rumor mills deliberately spilled out Armitage's name too, in an attempt to ignore the fact that he, too, has very likely tendered his resignation in the name of all things obvious.

I wish both the incoming Governor of California and the outgoing U.S. Secretary of State well in their upcoming challenges, confident in advance of both outcomes. Arnold will be adored... How can you not like Arnold? And Powell will go fishing and write a nice book in which he will refuse to spill any beans or ruffle any feathers. By leaving after four years, Powell is already the GOP's best hope in 2008 to undo the damage Bush has done to the party's image among horrified moderate Republicans. And the shrewd general-turned-diplomat knows it.

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