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By Charles Lam
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Photo by Jack GouldHis graying reddish hair continues to recede and he smiles a bit more, but some things never change with Bob Dornan. The bitter, defeated ex-Orange County congressman still preaches about such hot topics as Monica Lewinsky's stained dress, Whitewater and—without ever admitting he avoided combat duty during the Korean War by enrolling in college acting classes—his own inflated military career. In 1996, Republican Dornan lost his national perch to Democrat Loretta Sanchez in what is now Orange County's 47th District, but quickly found a new stage at Fox News and MSNBC. He's still there. On Aug. 6, Fox's Sean Hannity introduced the Harlem, N.Y., native and longtime Virginia resident as the man who "knows California politics better than anybody." Hannity asked if Arnold Schwarzenegger can win the governor's seat. Dornan rarely answers a direct question with a direct answer; his brain is like a haywire Bingo machine, a random-number generator. "Well," he told Hannity, "most Americans do not know that California is so big with 53 congressmen that it's Texas . . . 31 . . . and more than all of New England added. It's 53 Montanas. It's a huge population."
Seven days later, on MSNBC's Hardball With Chris Matthews, Dornan managed to focus long enough to offer his analysis of the recall election. "Here's the fascinating thing," he said. "[Tom] McClintock is a Baptist. Everybody else is a Catholic. [Bill] Simon. [Dick] Riordan was. [Cruz] Bustamante. Gray Davis. The Austrian-born Catholic, the Terminator. They're all Catholics. So I'm going to look to see what our gutless, weak, silent, worthless bishops do in this, because this is an interesting moment in the history of a state that was born out of a Spanish experience and a Catholic Franciscan monastery. I mean, explorers and missions. It's all fascinating."
While Dornan rambles incoherently, Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach) is also making the cable TV rounds in newfound defense of moderation. Schwarzenegger's "middle ground" is a "breath of fresh air," he told a CNN audience on Aug. 10. If you don't see the unintended comedy in that stance, you don't know that Rohrabacher is an ardent member of the state Republican Party's kook fringe that—among other conspiracy theories—believes Mexicans are plotting to take over California and that environmental protections are inspired by The Communist Manifesto. On gun control, gay rights, abortion and school vouchers, Schwarzenegger could be confused with a Democrat, but that doesn't bother Rohrabacher, a member of the actor's campaign team. He says, "The most important issue of this state is illegal immigration."
Memories are short in the mainstream media. No reporter, columnist or talk-show host has yet confronted Rohrabacher (who refused to comment for this story) about his hypocrisy on Schwarzenegger. During the past 15 years, the congressman and his allies branded conservative Orange County Republican women (Haydee Tillotson, Doris Allen and Marian Bergeson, for example) as unacceptable "liberals" and "traitors" because they didn't strictly follow conservative ideology.
Radical in OC but practical in statewide politics, Rohrabacher has abandoned fellow archconservative McClintock in hopes that his party can win the governor's mansion. On Aug. 25, the congressman told NPR's Morning Edition that social issues—the ones he's made a political life screaming about—should be downplayed in this campaign. "I obviously disagree with [Schwarzenegger] on some social issues," Rohrabacher said. "But what we're going to find is that Arnold, instead of focusing on those contentious issues that have polarized us, he's going to try to go to the middle, try to reach both sides halfway by focusing on the economy."
Even longtime Rohrabacher allies can't stomach his opportunism. The Reverend Lou Sheldon, oddly, has used graphic sexual imagery to describe his revulsion to Schwarzenegger's campaign. "Hear me now and believe me later," says Sheldon, who runs the Anaheim-based Traditional Values Coalition. "All these conservative orgasms over Arnold Schwarzenegger are—like the 'Gorbasms' liberals experienced over Mikhail Sergeevich Gorbachev—fake."
Don't feel sorry for Sheldon. He isn't alone. He has Dornan, who offers Schwarzenegger this advice: "In a crisis like this, I'd be going to church every day. He's got to get right with God."