As a governor, Ah-nold makes a fine celebrity
June 12, 2008 · Updated 4:34 PM
We are living in a debased culture.
We are run by polls.
We make celebrities out of our politicians, instead of heroes, and lately we have entered a new and disturbing trend of voting in celebrities as our actual politicians.
We judge our leaders via personality and polls. The recent recall in California is living proof that the average American voter no longer wants to think critically.
This isnt a party-based criticism of Californias new governor Arnold the Terminator.
I like Arnie personally.
I interviewed him way back in 1980 in Cincinnati when he was still a body builder.
Unlike most celebrities Ive interviewed, Arnold was not attended by a publicist, agent, or handler of any kind.
And he bought the lunch.
The young Arnold was a striking-looking guy, and we were surrounded by waiters and waitresses the entire meal.
He handled male and female attention gracefully, with a sort of heavy-handed Teutonic charm.
He groped nobody.
He made no homophobic comments.
In fact, when I asked him if he minded all the male attention, which was every bit as gushy as the female that long-ago day, he said: I made my body for people to appreciate. As long as they look and dont touch, I am happy they are looking.
Unlike many celebrities, and so-called local personalities, he looked me right in the eye, and he listened to my self-involved drivel with the same attention I gave his.
And he made me laugh, this then-heavily muscled, barely understandable Austrian athlete.
He told me he was going to be a major movie star and eventually a United States senator.
He didnt seem offended when I laughed in his face.
It vill hoppen, he said.
Ten years later I was living in Sun Valley, Idaho, with a German girl who owned the only destination restaurant in the entire state at that time.
I was the wine steward one night when who walked in but Arnold and his newish wife, Maria Kennedy. (I know, I know, but thats who she really is.)
He was thinner, smaller and older.
He was off steroids, and now a major movie star, the Terminator, recently married into one of the most famous political families in these United States.
I reminded him of our previous meeting, and he graciously claimed to remember me an utter impossibility if you are interviewed 15,000 times a year as he was then, and still is, I guess.
I reminded him of his prediction 10 years earlier in Ohio, and he laughed and said something about one down and one to go.
On the human level, Im happy he reached his political objective.
Like me, Arnold, despite party affiliations, seems to think for himself, and has positions all over the map.
Since Im pro-death penalty and pro-choice, a stretch which confuses both my leftist Seattle friends and right-leaning Kitsap buddies, I am encouraged by candidates who follow no obvious party lines, like Arnold.
And I think the voters of California had every right to recall a governor they felt wasnt getting the job done.
But Arnolds triumph of will over seeming circumstance begs the question.
The Republicans had some lifetime politicians who could have done a better job for the state in the long run.
Instead, the party caved, and the voters elected a celebrity, a man who plays heroes, but is simply a former weight-lifter turned actor turned multi-millionaire.
Why do we as voters persist in popularity contests and party line voting patterns? I believe its because we get our information from corporate-owned, electronic mass media outlets.
The liberal and conservative media are two sides of the same coin. Barely the facts, heavily spun, presented by people who look like blow-dried prettier versions of the people they are aiming their news reports at.
Television, and to a lesser extent radio, are passive. They require no deep thinking of their viewers and listeners.
They actually reward the shallow thinker, allowing him or her to develop an opinion and substitute it for a thought-out position.
Crime is up according to just-released FBI stats.
The war in Iraq is worsening. More Americans are dying despite optimistic reports from Washington.
Locally, there is less and less funding for Kitsaps roads and schools. There is higher unemployment, despite tremendous efforts to spin numbers and prove a so-far nebulous recovery.
Whether we are Democrats, Republicans or that rarest of birds anymore, the true indepedent, we need to think about where we are going, as a country and as a county.
And we need politicians, nationally and locally, who have proven themselves adept at government, not hairstyling and personal charm.
As long as we take the easy option, the one that allows us not to think, we will continue to struggle, whether we are in Kitsap County, California, or Iraq.
Saying something is so doesnt make it so, no matter how well-dressed you are when you say it.
We need voters who read, and read more than one newspaper a day.
We need voters who can think out of the narrow constricting boxes constructed by the modern versions of our two major political parties.
We need voters who can turn off the television, take their hand out of the junk-food bag and think.
We need politicians and leaders who are, if not heroes, at least experienced in governance.
What we dont need are more celebrities in charge.
Whats next, Ben and J Lo?
Dennis Wilken is a former Port Orchard Independent reporter.