October 08, 2003


Running Man Conan brings Judgement Day playing Predator over True Lies

With record turnout, Californians have flocked to the polls to oust Gray Davis and replace him with Arnold Schwarzenegger. The race wasn't even close. It's one of the biggest landslides in American history. Exit polls and early returns indicate that the vote to oust Davis is a winner by 10%, and on the replacement ballot Arnold Schwarenegger is not just winning, but winning by nearly 20% after the "next best" in the field, Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, and he bodes well to win with not just a plurality, but almost a clear majority.

When the GOP national party appeared to be pulling out the stops to insure that anti-choice, anti-gay rights mid to far right Bill Simon won the primary, instead of backing moderate Richard Riordan, some people wondered if it was the far right of the party that was pushing a sure loser onto the ballot over a maybe winner, solely for the sake of extreme ideology. I didn't think so at the time, and I don't think so now. I believe that they, the moderates especially, backed a sure loser because he was going to lose. The tragedy that is the California economy was obvious even then, and there was simply no good reason to shove a Republican into the governor's mansion to be the whipping boy for decades of Democratic mismanagement of state finances, especially the Davis excesses of the last five years.

Seriously. No matter who won the California governor's election last year, the winner would be facing a collapsing economy buried under massive tax increases and a seriously bloated state budget, with nothing but inevitable misery waiting. What sane president in troubled times, elected in controversy, would want the spectacle of a Republican California governor being buried under bad news, casting a shadow over the entire Republican Party? So bury Riordan quick and push Simon to lose, and let Davis and the Democrats take the abuse they'd earned.

Then the recall drive came, and someone had to run. When you approach it that way, Arnold actually makes sense for the Republicans. Pro choice, pro gay rights, a political novice with "Terminator" and "outsider" images, and a Hollywood boy. Just his box office power could discourage the less rabid Democrat money in Hollywood. You don't piss off (or on!) the man who can make you rich, or destroy you. After all, business is business. Best of all, as an outsider and almost a joke "celebrity" candidate, his screwups would be deniable and disclamable by the national GOP, with Arnold still being controllable. The best of both worlds!

The spin over the next few days and weeks will be amusing. Despite the best efforts of the heaviest guns in the Democratic Party, this was a thorough blowout. They got hammered, and their favored son got his ass handed to him on a golden platter with a generous side of "Do you want fries with that?" Despite having elected Gray Davis a mere 11 months previously, the voters turned out in record numbers to dump him and replace him with an Austrian body-building action movie star. Now the Dems have to explain how this could happen, without actually admitting they earned every bit of it. This from a party that has spent over a decade firmly establishing that no trick is too dirty, no smear too low, no tactic too sleazy for them to employ as long as it could get them elected. This election was no exception, but this time the voters rejected their tactics. And already I have heard Dems lumping Arnold in with the far right and exercising the same bitter adolescent hate-tantrums over him, somewhat ironic after watching him deliver his acceptance speech on a platform crowded with Hollywood glitterati and Kennedys.

Their only path is to try to portray this election as an isolated incident, a strictly local phenomenon, or to play it up as part of an anti-incumbent wave that will overtake Bush--or both. But the truth is the reaction has been building for years, and headed for the boiling point in the last several months in the heat over the Iraq war. The increasingly desperate, shrill, and even bizarre behavior of Democrats running to the far left in the last few years is turning people off, and today the voters went to the polls and sent a message through one of the worst offendors. It may well be that the election is an isolated incident, a local blip, and not an indicator of a wider repudiation of Democrat politics. It may be that, having delivered up their angst on the altar of California, the moderate middle from both parties and the independents will go back to being swing voters.

Or maybe not. Unless the Democrats learn from this experience, the same factors that led to the California blowout could affect next year's races. And the next. And the next. As long as they persist in being the party with no platform other than hatred of the opposition, as long as their only campaign weapons seem to be either selling out to special interests or demonizing the competitor, all the Republicans have to do to win is not sink to the same level and not make any serious errors that piss off the Great Middle.

For all the vitriol poured on Bill Clinton by the Right, one thing he wasn't was politically stupid. Foolish maybe, short-sighted even, but not stupid. He knew quite well that to be re-elected he would have to run to the middle, co-opting Republican issues and distancing himself from the fringe elements of the Democratic Party. As Bush would have to do with the fringe elements of the GOP next year, if the Dems could ever manage to find a candidate that doesn't totally alienate the independents as well as the moderates of both parties. Don't hold your breath.

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