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Hasta La Vista, California

Crank Call


Published October 15, 2003 at 4:00 p.m.

The only thing more ridiculous than Arnold Schwarzenegger as governor of California would be Arnold Schwarzenegger as president of the United States -- an unthinkable proposition under the U.S. Constitution, but one that recent events should warn us is now a distinct possibility.

Sure enough, Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah -- a great friend of Arnold's, apparently -- has proposed a Constitutional amendment that would allow any foreign-born meathead to become president "if he or she has been a U.S. citizen for 20 years and a resident for 14 years."

Don't ask me how Hatch picked these numbers, or why citizenship is considered to be more important than residency in the country you plan to stomp on. If you haven't noticed, the nation's gone nuts, and it won't be made right in the head again by tampering with law.

Actually, although he has no credentials for the job, no ideas in his head and not a single proposal for reducing California's budget deficit beyond the usual Republican scam of "no new taxes," I'm not surprised that Schwarzenegger won. I was in California a few weeks ago and, believe me, it's a mess. How anyone can live there and not realize that the whole enterprise is doomed is past my comprehension. You only have to look at the place to know that, sooner or later, it's going to die of its own excess -- that is, if an earthquake doesn't get it first and knock it whole into the sea, like Atlantis.

The California coastline is now completely destroyed by development, highways, runways, malls, amusement parks, prisons, hospitals, haciendas, community colleges, car dealerships and drug-treatment facilities. Nearly every Californian spends three hours a day talking on a cell phone while zooming around in an ever-larger, air-conditioned, gas-guzzling "vehicle." But none of the resources needed to provide for these amenities -- water, electricity, gasoline, satellites, bubble gum, hairspray and so on -- can be found anywhere in the vicinity of the state.

It just isn't sustainable, is what I'm saying. It can't be maintained indefinitely and forever.

When all else fails, I suppose, Californ-ians can start heating their homes by making bonfires out of the prehistoric goop in the La Brea tar pits. But, frankly, I think they know the game is up. Arnold's victorious campaign has to be seen as an extension of Peter Finch's role in the film Network, in which Finch, as a TV news anchor threatened with extinction, shouts out to millions of viewers, "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore!" and becomes a hero to all.

Anyway, that's one explanation for the Arnold phenomenon. Another would be that California, America's most populous and westernmost state, has always been seen as the crystallization, the very perfection, of the American dream. Whatever happens in the country as a whole happens in California in spades. In Washington, we have a man in the White House who's no more qualified to be president than Arnold is to be governor; it only makes sense that California voters, caught short by events, would rush to catch up by electing a man even dumber than Bush.

Overseas, they're making jokes of the "good news/bad news" variety. The bad news is obvious, says The Guardian of London: "No major American political office can ever have been filled by someone so devoid of ideas. The good news is that we are unlikely to have to sit through Terminator 4 for quite some years now."

I wouldn't be sure. Early signs indicate -- and, I believe, Arnold has actually said -- that he intends to govern like Ronald Reagan, appointing other people to do the job and limiting his own role to the photo-op and the chicken dinner. "Reagan made up for his lack of interest in position papers by his brilliance at reading speeches," The Guardian frets: "But, in Governor Arnie, we are faced with a politician who can't even talk. He is rapidly going to have to find some kind of stand-in -- an ideological stuntman."

Here, too, California might look to the national example for guidance. It was said of King Philip II of Spain -- he of the Invincible Armada -- that "no experience of the failure of his policy could shake his belief in its essential excellence."

Such is the creed of our own reigning king Doofus, who turned up in New Hampshire last week to eat a slice of pizza and assure the locals that the situation in Iraq is "a lot better than you probably think." On that very day, an attack on an Iraqi police station killed eight people, a Spanish diplomat was murdered and one more American soldier was blown to bits in an attack on a moving convoy.

"When you become the president," said Bush, making no mention of these events, "you cannot predict all the challenges that will come, but you do know the principles that you bring to the office, and they should not change with time or with polls." He then turned it over to Condoleezza Rice, who, in an apparent backstairs victory over Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, has been named head of the newly created "Iraq Stabilization Group" and will be running that country herself from her office in the basement.

"This puts accountability right into the White House," says a "senior administration official" in The New York Times. But, as Rummy can tell you, that's exactly what it doesn't do. It's all in the spin. Just find your marks, shut your mouth and govern, already -- serious candidates need not apply.

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