Total Recoil

The recall movies over. Now what?

There are dark portents here. Maybe Arnold's election is the result of a populist uprising, of common folks hungering for a common-sense leader who will sweep the crap out of the capitol. Hooray. On the other side, though, this election has lowered the bar for all future elections, where the parties now know their candidates don't have to say jack shit in the way of substance or accountability. Why stop at movie stars? You can get Itchy and Scratchy elected so long as they blow up enough stuff.

And you only have to peel back a flap of Arnold's human skin to see the Republican machine at work, where the recall is of a piece with Clinton's impeachment, Bush's Florida electoral hijacking and the Texas gerrymandering. Gray Davis is indeed a vicious campaigner, but he shoots spitwads compared to the sort of live ammo Republicans have been bringing to the fight.

The beefs most Californians had with Davis—the deficit and his handling of the energy crisis—were hardly of his making. Every single state in the union is undergoing a fiscal crisis, which suggests maybe you should look to Washington for the source. Meanwhile, the groundwork for the energy crisis was laid by Governor Pete Wilson—now Arnold's top adviser—when he pushed deregulating the industry, and then California was pushed over the precipice by frauds perpetrated on us by Bush's friends/contributors/advisors in the energy biz. Again, we can look to Hollywood for the template, to Arnold's most famous franchise, where the machines are laying waste to us so we turn to the "friendly" machine to save us.

Whether Arnold turns out to indeed be a kinder, gentler leader who lives up to his promise to represent everybody, or whether, like Bush, he does the exact opposite, the voters didn't seem to worry much about what they were getting so long as it was a man of action. You know how there was Nicaraguan Strongman Anastasio Somoza and Salvadoran Strongman Roberto D'Aubuisson? Now, for better or worse, we've got California Strongman Arnold Schwarzenegger, which may just be one more way America is becoming like a Central American oligarchy.

It is nothing but fact that the very rich in America keep getting richer, while everyone else is getting poorer, and the qualities by which a civilization is measured—health care, justice, freedom, literacy, compassion and such—are sliding away. There is a sad dynamic seen in some of our southern neighbors, where people are so downtrodden they align themselves with power—any power, whether it's a druglord or the same monied rulers who are oppressing them—just so they can feel they're on the winning side. It's sort of like the way you come out of an Arnold movie feeling pumped-up. Our unquestioning elevation of him—instead of thoughtful and candid candidates such as Tom McClintock or Peter Camejo—makes me wonder if we've come to that.

The finest moments in any Arnold film are in The Last Action Hero.The kid in the movie nods off in class during a screening of the Olivier Hamlet and dreams of Arnold in the role of the cerebral, indecisive prince. "Something is rotten in Denmark, and Hamlet is taking out the trash!" says a voice-over as Arnold machineguns everyone, has a brief soliloquy—"To be or not to be . . . NOT TO BE!" and blows up Elsinore castle.

It's big fun on the screen. But Hamlet was only indecisive because he was just. He acted, but first he waited, holding in check the ghostly presentiments of his father's murder and his own feelings so that proof and reason might catch up. It's as if the prince embodied mankind's progression from superstition and instinct to reason, the shift the species was making from God-sanctioned monarchy to democracy and the rule of man-made laws. We took a long time to get there, and we may yet regret tossing it all aside for a guy who crushes cars real good.

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