John Chuckman: Cloud-Cuckoo-Land
October 10, 2003
California has just elected an adolescent fantasy as governor. One imagines fans, used to paying for Schwarzenegger's image projected on a screen, leaving rallies feeling blessed at having glimpsed him in the flesh - dyed hair, induced tan, eyebrow-waxing, capped teeth, and all - much as winners from a church bingo go home feeling blessed.
The model for American society is fast becoming a set of gigantic lotteries, the final reduction of the American Dream. While I dislike most nonsense about dreams and visions, at least the line about the American Dream did recall an epic struggle in a brave new world with its waves of vibrant, migrant population.
For years now there has been a growing view in America that opportunity consists in every citizen getting a lottery ticket for some dazzling pay-out. It's an idea implicit in think-tank pamphlets and in the behavior of many American corporations. Of course, lotteries only work because almost everyone loses, but they are fun along the way, taking your mind off unglamorous reality, and anticipation is hyped-up for each new draw.
The lottery-society idea now has been extended from the economy to government itself. The people of California voted to eject as governor a perfectly competent man overtaken by a wave of adverse economic change. Never mind allowing him to make changes and adjustments - that is, allowing him to govern. Never mind orderly government. He's a loser, get rid of him. We want it all, and we want it now. In his place, bets are placed on a celebrity whose every utterance is a cut-and-paste slogan from the Internet site of some American think-tank.
And it doesn't seem to matter that his past is littered with nasty behavior. The right-wing is like that: ceaselessly preaching morality, but when one of its own is caught, as it were, with his pants down, he always somehow still qualifies to govern.
The current President had a history of substance abuse and rich-boy drifting, but a few mumbled references about the Lord made him a Christian warrior-President. And so Schwarzenegger's life-long lousy behavior towards women and past Hitler-admiration are swept away. I don't know that he ever mentioned the Lord during his campaign, but clearly he is needed for the Lord's work.
Despite the tired slogans of his campaign, Schwarzenegger's opening gambit, as of this writing, is to demand money from the President for California's financial plight. Now there's an original idea. I wonder how many drawling, sputtering Republicans over the last thirty years have excoriated liberals about money and "the damned fed'rah gov'ment"? Well, this is a sophisticated new breed of Republicans. They've discovered a magic formula: it's okay to spend more, lots more, as long as you also cut taxes.
Of course, Schwarzenegger will have an entrée at the White House the former Democratic governor could never have had, but it does seem an awkward time to ask for money. The new Governor may have to stand in a long line of diplomats from countries seeking early installments of their War on Terror bribes, from Pakistan, Turkey, and Poland to some thirty or forty others. There are scores of corporate representatives lined-up, wanting their first bloated payment for screwing in light bulbs or replacing taps at American headquarters in Iraq. There's also an impressive contingent looking to donate to the President's upcoming campaign, providing some understanding over contracts in Iraq can be reached.
Well, Schwarzenegger probably will get in ahead of some of these people. Bush does want a warm greeting in California during the re-election campaign. Could it be that the principled Schwarzenegger is using political leverage for a bribe? No, this is the business of the nation, as conducted between Republican governments.
Well, a no-account, ranting, army-nut drifter in Germany about seventy years ago did set Germany back on the rails from the Great Depression, just before he proceeded to blow up the entire rail system.
People do get the government they deserve, and California has elected a circus, complete with heady whiffs of elephant manure and an obscene cabaret act. My God, there's even America's Political Gothic, the ghastly Borgia clan from Massachusetts, taking bows as toothy, sequined performers, drawn to new sources of power the way vampires are to fresh blood.
Oh well, they can always have another recall, can't they?