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For the week of August 13 - 19, 2003

Opinion Columns

Maybe California weirdness is normal

Commentary by Pat Murphy

Muscle power is trumping brainpower in American politics.

When President Bush completed his annual physical a few days back, doctors reported he’d put on five pounds, quickly adding it was new "muscle."

Then this week, the inevitable: Hong Kong-based Blue Box Toys plans to market a $39.95 jaunty military action figure of "Elite Force Aviator: George W. Bush—U.S. President and Naval Aviator" in a jet flight suit to commemorate the commander-in-chief’s landing on the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln. (Brain not included.)

And what pray is celebrity titan Arnold Schwarzenegger’s appeal as possibly the next governor of Caly-phorniya (Arnie’s pronunciation of the name)? His iconic image as the oiled-up, bare-chested he-man Terminator, not as a policy wonk.

There’s more to this creeping muscle theme. President Bush adds hints of muscle in his daily duties--taking the nation to war, leaping macho-like out of a jet after an aircraft carrier landing, daring Iraqi terrorists to "Bring ’em on!" to tangle with American GIs, telling the United Nations to stuff it, etc.

For his part, Arnie deals with Caly-phorniya problems with rhetorical sinew if not logic: "Hasta la vista, baby!" Goodbye problems.

(He’s yet to deal with his starkest inconsistency: he calls Caly-phorniya’s $38 billion budget deficit a crisis, but presumably finds no fault in President Bush’s $400 billion-plus-and-counting deficit.)

My longtime Pulitzer cartoonist friend, Steve Benson, of The Arizona Republic, found irony in the Caly-phorniya recall circus--a drawing of Gov. Gray Davis and his possible ouster labeled "Gray Matter" alongside a muscle-headed image of Schwarzenegger labeled "Lack of Gray Matter."

If muscle is the metaphor for Republicans, then Gov. Davis is the perfect metaphor for Democratic Party image--narcissistic, dull, bland, wimpy, uninspired; a perfect match with party leaders: Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, who needs periodic pulse checks to see if he’s alive; House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a late, late bloomer with no signs of ever blooming, and DNC chairman Terry McAuliffe, still whining about the 2000 election results.

Strange bedfellows literally also are found in this year’s politics. Republican Schwarzenegger is married into the Kennedy clan via his Democrat wife, Maria Schriver, and Democrat presidential wannabe John Kerry’s wife, Teresa, was a Republican until she recently changed parties.

Political skills? Irrelevant. Schwarzenegger’s $300 million wealth surely is as much evidence of his ability to be Caly-phorniya governor as onetime baseball team owner George W. Bush, who became Texas’ chief executive and then moved on to the White House.

Eloquence? Unimportant. Schwarzenegger’s Austrian-accented English is less mangled than the president’s occasional unscripted bloopers.

Topping off oddball elements of Caly-phorniya’s political sideshow is the state’s use of punch card ballots for the recall election in many voting districts, the same as those used in Florida’s disputed 2000 presidential election.

Wouldn’t it be something if the Caly-phorniya’s recall results were challenged and would up for a final decision in the U.S. Supreme Court?



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