Jewish World Review August 12, 2003 / 14 Menachem-Av, 5763
What would Reagan do?
Navigating the Malibu-Brentwood-Bel Air social circuit is a snap. Holding forth on a press junket to promote the latest film is a no-brainer - although those questions from "Access Hollywood" can be real mindbenders, I'm sure. But navigating the sprawling, vexing labyrinth known as California politics is another matter altogether.
Even in California, man cannot get elected on celebrity alone. Mr. Schwarzenegger needs some basic guidelines to follow to avoid having his current sizzle turn into an election-day fizzle. So here's my memo to Mr. Schwarzenegger:
One: Think Reagan.
Be upbeat, sunny, and positive. Yes, the deficit is astronomical and hard choices are necessary, but you will get it done. Period. Gray "Skies" Davis will do what he always does in campaigns - he'll avoid taking personal responsibility and go negative. Let him. Flick him off like a piece of lint.
Californians need hope and optimism. Give it to them. Whenever you're in doubt, ask yourself, "What would Reagan do?" "How would the Gipper respond?"
Two: Tout your American success story.
You are an immigrant who worked hard, played by the rules, and achieved the American dream. Tell your story - again and again. You are an entrepreneur and a risktaker who could never have found such success in any other country in the world. You now want to give something back by dedicating yourself as aggressively to leading California as you have to playing leading roles. When the Davis team tries to portray you as a hard-bodied know-nothing, respond by saying that the voters of California are tired of soft-bodied know-it-alls.
Three: Avoid the tug-of-war between GOP moderates and conservatives.
This will be tough but it's important. The state's ongoing feud between the Republican right and middle-of-the-roaders is fierce. Gray "Skies" exploited this rift when he attacked moderate Dick Riordan in the 2002 GOP primary.
The key here is to convince both camps that given all the political and economic carnage across the state, you're the only one who can bring both sides together. Give a "united we win, divided we fall" speech.
As for the explosive issues - such as abortion, gun control, and immigration - that fuel this raging intraparty struggle, you should not run away from them. State your beliefs but always first acknowledge that reasonable people disagree about these complicated matters. Remember, your strategy should be never vilify, always inspire.
Four: Don't be afraid to be politically incorrect.
Ignore the consultants and handlers who urge you to steer clear of the hot-button issues about which you feel strongly.The public will want to hear from you on illegal immigrants, affirmative action, and bilingual education. Offend no one and you motivate no one. Your answers to these questions should come from your gut, not from a focus group. Again, treat the opposition with respect, but tell the people what you believe and why. And if your language is sometimes not artful, don't worry. President Bush has managed just fine, and still can't pronounce "nuclear."
Five: Dedicate this recall election to the people.
The campaign to recall Mr. Davis has been a grass-roots effort from Day 1. Back in February the political elites scoffed at the notion that some fledgling movement could ever disrupt Mr. Davis's hold on power. As usual, they were wrong and totally underestimated the people's fury and frustration at a political leader who had abused their trust. On the "Tonight Show," you seemed to have this point down pat when you said "The people are working hard. The people are paying the taxes, the people are raising the families, but the politicians are not doing their job. The politicians are fiddling, fumbling, and failing." The people, not the politicians, are what make California great; and the people deserve better.
Even if Mr. Schwarzenegger follows this five-point plan, he could still tank at the political box office. The political unknowns that lurk behind every corner could terminate even the Terminator. But I'm betting on him because, unlike Mr. Davis, he doesn't need the political power. He already is powerful. Now he wants to do some good.
Mr. Schwarzenegger surprised the critics in Hollywood when he parlayed Mr. Olympia into Mr. Box Office. And this week he surprised many of us when he decided to try to parlay Mr. Box Office into Mr. Governor. The next one to be surprised may be Mr. Davis.
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