That's entertainment

Although much of the country was mystified by, even aghast at, California’s recall election, Californians appear to have enjoyed the spectacle immensely, turning out in droves to replace a bland professional politician with a movie star best known for aping the gestures of a robot programmed to ape the gestures of human beings. It’s amazing what a promise not to raise taxes will do, even for a bad actor.

Whether Arnold Schwarzenegger’s election signals the next step in the triumph of entertainment and stagecraft over substantive politics, and of celebrity over character, remains to be seen. It certainly feels like it. One thing is certain, however: Arnold Schwarzenegger is going to be watched intently here and around the world. Although his campaign was, in one respect, little more than the shrewd manipulation of innocuous images and empty rhetoric-the sort of public-relations trick that American historian Daniel Boorstin once labeled a “pseudo-event”-it nevertheless touched a genuine chord with voters. Schwarzenegger put his own rags-to-riches story center stage, demonstrating the enduring appeal of the American promise of unfettered opportunity and immigrant success. His sincerity, if not the coherence of his ideas, was undeniable.

Schwarzenegger’s victory is being heralded as a triumph for popular democracy and a rebuke to the “political class.” Certainly it was a rebuke to Democratic Governor Gray...

To read the rest of this article please login or become a subscriber.