By Brad Slager | October 8, 2003

From where I sit, the entire California recall election has been a joy to behold and much of this has to do with where it is I am sitting exactly. I live in South Florida, the epicenter of the seismic political debacle that was the 2000 Presidential election, and I speak for many of the few sane individuals from this area when I express gratitude to The Golden State for erasing whatever embarrassments we may have endured for the past few years.

Go from Gary Coleman, to a porn star, to a pair of European frontrunners, to the deputy Governor expecting to get votes from the same people deposing his boss — the field alone was enough to cause merriment. Add to that a threatened lawsuit from Gray Davis complaining about the punch card voting machines, just in case he is removed from office, (which I have to assume would have been dropped in the event of a victory.) Suppose he succeeds and proves the machines are invalid, are they not the very same machines used to elect him in the first place, and would that not at the same time invalidate his election to office? And wouldn’t that end up giving California the exact same result?

No matter where you stand on the issue, the one certainty in the maelstrom was who was leading the race, and you did not need to see the poll numbers to figure it out. Arnold Schwarzenegger was the solitary target of any and all scandalous speculation for the past few weeks. He hasn’t been in the cross hairs like this since he appeared in “Predator”. What was baffling to me was the charges themselves, as Gray Davis and the Democrats leveled accusations against him that they essentially have spent the past decade defending.

The most prevalent argument against choosing Arnold was also the most basic, and in many ways the most liberating. In one form or another, we have heard a variation on the phrase, “Arnold is only an actor–he doesn’t know a thing about politics.” Now, was I the only one to see the irony in the various actors who were making that declaration? The good news is that by acknowledging this statement the media no longer needs to subject us to Woody Harrelson trying to find the legalization of marijuana in the Constitution, Norman Lear lecturing me about the vile nature of my vehicle while standing in his 23 car garage, Martin Sheen forgetting that he only pretends to be the President for an hour each week, or Alec Baldwin threatening to move to Europe any time he doesn’t get his way politically, (he wasn’t misquoted, I read it on his web site.)

This should also serve as an indication that the newspapers can stop posting headlines every time Babs Streisand fires off a fax to Congress telling them how they should vote.

Once Schwarzenegger’s neophyte factor failed to dilute his popularity, more conventional skullduggery began to surface. First was a nude photo of Arnold leaked to the press, but amazingly no scandal was forthcoming. The main reason was the image had been composed by the late photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, whose controversial images the Democrats have supported for years. After defending images of men being sodomized with bullwhips, a snap shot of Arnie out of his banana hammock lost all of its impact.

That effort was followed by the infamous interview with Oui magazine, circa 1975. If Ken Starr gets accused of staging a witch hunt for delving back a few years into Bill Clinton’s past, what can be said of referencing an article from a second-rate skin mag dating a quarter of a century ago? (And what can be said of those who look at skin mags for the articles?) The piece itself was of little value—some disparaging remarks about gays and an admission that he liked to party. I read more lurid details in Shelly Winters’ autobiography.

When that failed to dissuade voters, next came the Nazi allegations. As much as the press wanted to hang a swastika around Arnold’s neck, it took ABC News to release one half of a book-proposal interview where Schwarzenegger gave wan support of Hitler during his early political days. They conveniently left out the last half of the interview where he then explained he despised what the Nazis did with their abuse of power–but hey, a half-truth is still the truth, right? All of this was mitigated of course by Arnold’s longtime support of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and in fact it was through this organization that he investigated his own father’s involvement with the Nazi party.

The biggest push against the man-who-would-be-governor came in the closing days, with a fusillade of females claiming to have been fondled by the foreigner. Democrats statewide were calling for investigations into the matters, with many of the ladies coming forward with tales of unwanted sexual advances. Some of them had been so traumatized that it took them two decades to report the incident. They told stories of embarrassment and shame, and many had gripping accounts, but there was a slight problem – The Democrats had spent the last ten years or so telling us that we should not care.

This kind of behavior is a personal matter, (I have been taught), and it has no bearing at all on whether Mr. Schwarzenegger’s job as a politician, (I have come to accept) and therefore the accounts from these women should be dismissed. Think about it. After Gloria Steinem explained on CNN one evening that Bill Clinton’s Heimlich maneuver introduction with women cannot be declared sexual harassment, why should we be concerned with Arnold pinching some female’s bottom backstage a few years back?

Most interesting was that this ninth inning barrage of scandal did not come from political opponents, but instead was delivered to our doorsteps via The Los Angeles Times. You would have to be naïve not to suspect Gray Davis had a hand in this barrage of bad mouthing, but The Times insisted they undertook the exhaustive investigation without provocation. The paper explained that they analyzed the closing credits to each one of Arnold’s movies and contacted every female who worked on the production. I thoroughly enjoy envisioning the process:

Hello, Ms. Jane Doe? We understand that you were an assistant to the key grip in charge of wiring the lights in the rigging with gaffer tape on the Second Unit for “The Running Man” back in ’87. Would you like to tell us if Arnold ever copped a feel, fondled, groped, leered, insinuated, or otherwise used a double-entendre in your presence?

By now I am convinced if this campaign had lasted any longer we were about to see a paternity scandal alleged towards Arnold using the publicity stills from “Junior”, with the press pointing out that it is not Maria Shriver in those photos and clearly it is Arnold’s baby. It just shows how wrong headed the Democratic Party was in this recall tempest.

The thrust of the movement to ouster Gray Davis was rooted in his sticking the State budget in a blender, not to mention the mess he made of the deregulation of the electrical utilities, creating monstrous debts in the process. Since economics was motivator, the Dems could have marginalized Schwarzenegger very easily. All they had to do from the start was ask how Arnold could expect to fix the financial problem in California when he couldn’t even keep his Planet Hollywood franchise afloat. Doubling the price of fajita wraps and not allowing free refills on Pepsi won’t bail out the State.

But the Democrats could not get out of their own way and now Arnold is the one calling the shots. All I can say is that I enjoyed the show, a small amount of drama surrounding an action hero appearing in a statewide comedy. And those of us here in Florida cannot wait for this to come out on DVD, so we can watch it repeatedly.

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