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Saturday Night at the Movies by Dennis Hartley review archive

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Hullabaloo


Sunday, October 12, 2003

 
Can You Blame Me?

Matt thinks I'm a tad cynical. (Not that there's anything wrong with that...)

Maybe, but I'm not the only one. Read this by Todd Gitlin.

... with the respect Americans have long paid to the most efficient hucksters, since P. T. Barnum, they admire him [Schwarzenegger] for the style with which he pulls the wool over their eyes.

For all that his supporters may think they've outfoxed politics as usual, Schwarzenegger is "smart" the way any conventional politician is "smart": About his positions, he's said next to nothing. California has snookered itself, thinking it's defeated politics as usual. What it's done is ditch a blah celebrity in favor of a wow celebrity.

And so, once again, the Democrats reaped the bitter harvest of their own pallor and incompetence. As governor, Davis droned. As lieutenant governor, Cruz Bustamante droned. As campaigners, they droned. Neither shone. Neither made himself lovable. They gave lousy spectacle. In a world of stargazers, they were third-magnitude stars. And so they discredited politics.

Thus did the self-made demagogue spin implausibility into victory. Give him this: He struck a blow at dreariness. He pulverized doubt. He proved himself the king of demolition as self-help. Life's a movie, after all. Don't like the government? Go out and blow up some stuff. Nothing is real.


Just remember, it isn't only a "California problem." It's a national problem. And, it ain't going away.


[Schwarzenegger] campaign officials
now concede, preparations for his candidacy and especially for the remarkably successful strategy he would follow -- avoiding the traditional press and going straight to the entertainment media with vague messages and movie-style sound bites -- were laid as early as June, when they conducted a series of highly revealing focus groups.

The groups, put together in San Francisco and the conservative San Fernando Valley, almost unanimously described Gov. Gray Davis as indecisive, remote and beholden to special interests. Schwarzenegger was seen in a much more positive light; the participants were generally aware of the actor's involvement with the Special Olympics and after school programs in California. They also expressed less interest in policies and more in "leadership" when asked what it took to govern.

The focus group findings gave birth to one of the most audacious media campaigns ever waged, in which the candidate made an end run around the establishment media -- newspapers and the more serious television news shows -- and used talk radio, entertainment shows and televised daily events to sell himself to "viewers" (as voters became known to some inside the Schwarzenegger campaign). He presented himself as an outsider who, though light on detailed policies, was decisive, optimistic and forward-looking.

[...]

The most important element to me was striking the balance between policy Arnold and celebrity Arnold," said Dan Schnur, a Republican consultant who worked on Peter Ueberroth's short-lived campaign. "Schwarzenegger made people comfortable with the idea that he could govern. The lesson is that substance matters, or at least the appearance of substance."

In fact, Schwarzenegger sat down for more lengthy interviews with print journalists than critics believe, said Walsh -- 13 in 9 weeks.

But many of the articles that appeared seemed to have been influenced by the television coverage, a number of experts said, with much of the emphasis placed on Schwarzenegger's appearance and manner, rather than his comments on policy matters.

"What we were witnessing was a highly evolved version of a tendency already in place," said Schell. "The power of the entertainment media eclipsed the serious media. Nobody seemed to notice."


How about this:

David Gergen, director of the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, noted: "We sometimes don't like to admit it, but acting is part of political leadership. Franklin Roosevelt once told Orson Welles that they were the two best actors in the country." He said that Mr. Schwarzenegger "has a window to do things that few others would have, but it'll close fast."

[...]

Mr. Reagan was a consummate pragmatist, but he was guided by fixed views. It is not yet clear whether Mr. Schwarzenegger is, too, but he has so far pursued his career goals single-mindedly, while reinventing himself periodically.

When asked, before he ran for office, what kind of governor he would be, Mr. Reagan famously answered: "I don't know. I've never played a governor before."

By the end of his presidency, he would confess there had been times when he "wondered how you could do the job if you hadn't been an actor."


Or (save me) how about this:


The 20-year-old voted for the first time because "this year it seems like your vote counts."

She went with the recall and was leaning toward Schwarzenegger "because he wasn't a politician," she said. "And I also really liked his wife."

But at the last moment, Richardson switched her vote to Green Party candidate Peter Camejo.


Now maybe we can completely change American politics in the next 12 months by running a sincere and earnest campaign based upon the issues and good old fashioned grassroots campaigning. But after last week, I am more convinced than ever that we will lose huge if we try that.

I admit that I'm cynical about how the process works these days. But, I also think I'm realistic. I'd like the Democrats to wise up and save this country from the radical right wing that holds all institutional pwoer in the federal government right now. And that will not happen by spending the next year deluding ourselves that the people in this country vote on the basis of 12 point plans and "Dingell-Norwood" bills.

Most people think that politics is an interactive reality TV show. We'd better be prepared to put on a good show.




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