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Who Does Schwarzenegger Represent?

by Carl Gunther Sunday, Oct. 05, 2003 at 12:49 AM

An analysis of the attractions and perils of the Schwarzenegger candidacy for California's voters.

Who Does Schwarzenegger Represent?
--------------------------------------------------------

The most obvious question that arises in connection with Arnold Schwarzenegger is: who does he actually represent?

Fellow Republican candidate Tom McClintock at least has a real constituency. Some might claim that this constituency is, as a group, selfish and short-sighted on the issue of taxation, as well as hypocritical and mean-spirited on the issue of immigration, but it is nonetheless a real and substantial group of voters with actual interests at stake in the political process. And of course the Democratic and Green candidates have real constituencies, as well.

Schwarzenegger, by contrast, has no real base of support. As a candidate, he is entirely a media creation, an "Arnold Headroom" of sorts who, with no past history in government, has stepped through the flickering screen to convince voters that the only way out of the frying pan of the Davis Administration is to jump into the fire of his media-driven road show.

So, who does Schwarzenegger actually represent? To find out, we should ask who gains by his election. The answer lies outside of the Calfornia electorate and its legitimate distress with the Davis administration, for which Schwarzenegger offers no real solutions. Interested parties include, in particular, the Bush Administration, with its concerns about the coming presidential race, and, ironically, the very energy companies that were granted enormous chunks of our Treasury by Davis during the so-called "energy crisis." These companies are now engaged in a legal battle with Governor Davis and Lieutenant Governor Bustamante over the billions they stole during that manufactured crisis, and a new governor may be their only hope of keeping those ill-gotten gains.

The Bush administration and its energy allies are aligned in a well-known and mutually-supportive pact of self interest whose philosophy is: "Why settle for just a piece when we can have it all?" And both have reason to believe that a new Republican governor for California would provide them with welcome relief from their overlapping electoral, and legal, challenges.

In that connection, Schwarzenegger's meeting on April 12th with top Bush strategist Karl Rove, along with the involvement of Bush campaign advisors Noelia Rodriguez, Gerry Parsky, Mindy Tucker and others in the recall effort itself, takes on a truly troubling caste. Tucker is quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle of August 6th as saying, "We've identified some areas where the recall will help us build the party -- not only for the recall, but also for '04, which everyone believes is important." GOP strategist Sean Walsh is quoted in the same article as stating that "The Democrats (in California) are going to come unglued, and it's going to bleed over into the presidential race."

Such involvements raise the concern that the recall drive might be an attempt by the Bush Administration and its energy allies to eliminate Davis, who they can never completely own, and take direct control over "their" new state through a candidate who is beholden to no one but themselves, resulting in even less accountability than before, the release of energy companies from their financial obligations, and the possibility of a Florida-like corruption of California's electoral process during the coming presidential contest.

Perhaps that is why the Schwarzenegger campaign looks like nothing so much as an invasion by an aggressive foreign power. The candidate rides in a military vehicle, and claims that he is going to "terminate" the governor. His caravan includes three buses named "Predator", which is the name not only of a Schwarzenegger film, but of a remote-controlled attack drone that was used in the recent (some would say ongoing) war that has devastated both the nation of Iraq and our own national budget. And now, television reporters are bragging on the air that their "news" reporters will be traveling in one of those predatory buses, like the "embedded" reporters of the recent Iraq campaign.

When seen in this context, the litany of charges that have surfaced regarding Schwarzenegger's abuse of women, his sexist and racist comments, his opportunistic business practices, and so on, while indicative of a person whose scruples are dominated by his crass desires, are ultimately not the main point. Schwarzenegger never could have been a candidate in the first place solely on his merits, and so his deficits are, to a certain extent, equally "irrelevant," since the fundamental impetus for his candidacy lies not in his personal qualities, but in the interests that support him. Very telling in that regard is the protective response of the electronic media, which have endowed him with a Reagan-like Teflon immunity by spinning their coverage in his favor, and by granting him unlimited and unequal access to the air, presumably because they see in him a vehicle for their own corporate interests, from media deregulation to maintaining the present low rate of corporate taxation. One cannot help but be reminded of the role of the media as cheerleaders during the war on Iraq. What such coverage shows is that this candidate, *whatever* his personal failings, will continue to be deliberately imposed upon the electorate, warts and all.

But the media, while complicit, are not entirely to blame. As Jacques Ellul said in his classic work "Propaganda," you cannot successfully deceive a community unless, at some unconscious level, its members want to believe what you're saying. And the desire to be rid of Davis, and to believe that they can somehow, painlessly and without real struggle, re-assert their authority over a political process that has, in reality, slipped for the moment beyond their control, has caused voters to focus pathetically on "Arnold" as an empty receptacle into which they can pour all of their hopes and dreams for some kind of a voter resurgence. There is a deep emotional desire to avoid direct acknowledgement of, and engagement with, the unpleasant but very real loss of political power by the people of this state that culminated in the last election's Hobson's choice of Gray Davis as the better of two bad options. And this denial, like that of an alcoholic, is driving some voters toward a candidate who will only take them deeper into the powerlessness whose perception they are desperately trying to escape.

Electoral reform and grass-roots organizing are the only roads to a true resurgence of voter control within California. In the meantime, action hero rescue fantasies can only lead the state into further distress. This recall is a trap, not a solution. Hopefully, California's voters will see through the ploy and defeat the recall initiative in this Tuesday's election.

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Terminate the Sexist Nazi RAB Tuesday, Oct. 07, 2003 at 1:00 AM
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