We're not sure if Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's communications people wore straight faces as they tappity-tapped out a press release announcing the governor's “town hall meeting” in San Diego last Friday. They probably did. After all, they've been producing these carefully choreographed public-relations plays since Schwarzenegger took office in 2003; they're probably immune to the irony by now.
Obviously, this was no town-hall meeting in Downtown's 4th & B concert hall—unless aliens attacked and turned the town's residents into Schwarzenegger supporters. As union workers seethed and chanted anti-Schwarzenegger slogans outside, the guv's team packed the venue with handpicked cheerleaders, seating half of them on risers on a stage behind the celebrity politician and the other half in chairs on the floor in front. Judging from appearances, the folks behind him, who'd be shown on camera, either dressed casually because it was Friday or were stripped of their suit jackets—to give the affair more of a John and Jane Q. Citizen feel. The men and women in front were allowed to don their business apparel.
Fortunately, most media aren't so gullible that they actually referred to the event as a town-hall meeting, so none of that really matters. The governor can call it a Rootin' Tootin' Down Home Hootenanny Starring Uncle Jake and Auntie Mabel if that's what makes him happy.
Whatever you call it, the event was actually an official announcement that Schwarzenegger's going to run for reelection next year and a “go ahead” signal to deep-pockets business interests that it's OK to start pouring money into the campaign to pass the governor's three initiatives on the Nov. 8 special-election ballot, which would limit state spending and give the governor enhanced budget powers, increase the probationary period for new teachers and yank the authority to draw political-district boundaries away from the state Legislature.
The Democrats think they have Schwarzenegger right where they want him. He foolishly took on the powerful unions, which countered brilliantly, casting the governor's pension and education reforms as assaults on the public's favorite servants: nurses, cops, firefighters and teachers. Now polls say voters are disinclined to pass his initiatives and return him to Sacramento, and Democrats think that if they and their well-financed union friends can bludgeon Schwarzenegger's initiatives with negative TV ads, they can send him back to Beverly Hills for good.
They shouldn't be so sure. Schwarzenegger hasn't yet fought back with his own ads, which have served him well in the past. Meanwhile, the Democrats are betting on the likes of Controller Steve Westly and Treasurer Phil Angelides. We like Angelides' liberal politics a lot, but if Schwarzenegger is still standing next summer, portraying these cats as the reason California's in the tank in the first place will be as easy as gulping down a burger and fries at Planet Hollywood. Worse, they're Democratic politicians-they're born without sex appeal.
What we'd like to see is a Celebrity Showdown Royale, a high-stakes, big-money, star-power shoot-out between Schwarzenegger and Warren Beatty, who's been mentioned as a possible Democratic candidate. The Terminator vs. Bulworth—what fun!
The great thing about a Beatty candidacy is that it would give second life to Bulworth, one of the best, most overlooked movies of the past decade and one of the more politically incisive films. Beatty himself wrote the screenplay. Consider some of the lyrics in a spontaneous rap Senator Bulworth delivers at a fundraiser:
“One man one vote/ Now izzat really real?/ The name of our game is/ Let's make a deal/ Now people got their problems/ The haves and the have-nots/ But the ones that make me listen/ Pay for 30-second spots!... We got factories closin' down/ Where the hell did all the good jobs go?/ Well, I'll tell you where they went/ My contributors make more profits/ Hiring kids in Mexico.”
Beatty has said, “The real issue is the disparity of wealth in this country. And that gets unattended and unacknowledged. Traitors to their class are marginalized in political discourse. They're seen as nuts. Their motives are weird. They're antithetical to our stock portfolios.”
So, we'd have an action-movie star and political moderate who's climbed in bed with the business elite and the social conservatives facing off against an intellectual liberal who not only wrote Bulworth—a film about a sellout politician who finds redemption by immersing himself in ghetto culture—but also wrote Reds, about an American who joins the communists in fighting the Russian Revolution. Sweet.