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Registered: 09/11/01
Posts: 1,351
Loc: BC Canada
The latest from Linda McQuaig
    #2013352 - 10/16/03 01:50 AM (14 years, 8 months ago)

The dumb, mean populism of Arnold and W

The dumb, mean populism of Arnold and W

Why the image of a pre-programmed killer is the perfect springboard for a political career in today’s America

Dateline: Monday, October 13, 2003

by Linda McQuaig

Apparently, watching Arnold Schwarzenegger as a robotic killer in The Terminator not only entertained millions of people, but also left them thinking: Now, why can’t we have a governor like that? Those who figured that the image of a pre-programmed killer might not be the perfect springboard for a political career are clearly out of touch with today’s America.

Of course, that was only Schwarzenegger’s make-believe persona. In real life, he was a body builder.

If this doesn’t reveal much about what he intends to do as governor of California, his campaign was similarly uninformative. Mostly it relied on populist rhetoric, promising that he’d be "the people’s governor."

But it’s hard to imagine anything populist about the mega- millionaire Schwarzenegger, whose candidacy was championed by wealthy Republicans, and whose vow not to raise taxes, despite an $8 billion deficit, makes deep cuts to already-ravaged state programs almost inevitable - cuts that will hurt ordinary people.

Populism used to mean defending the interests of ordinary people, championing the little guy. Now, new-styled right-wing populists like Schwarzenegger and George W. Bush claim to be close to the people - not by defending the interests of the people, but simply by being uninformed, slow- witted, even inarticulate. ("Laura and I really don’t realize how bright our children is sometimes until we get an objective analysis," Bush told Meet the Press in April 2000.)

In this spirit, pundits declared Bush the winner of the 2000 presidential debate even though he seemed out of his depth debating the more articulate and well-informed Al Gore. The pundits didn’t deny Gore’s superior command of the issues, but concluded that Bush’s apparent inadequacy showed he was more down to earth, while Gore reminded people of the smartest kid in their high school class, the one they used to resent.

The notion that smartness and a grasp of the issues is a liability for the job of running the world’s most powerful country is, of course, interesting in itself.

My guess is that the right isn’t actually trying to declare war on smartness. Rather, it’s trying to distract attention from the fact that there is nothing in its platform that actually benefits ordinary people, who make up much of the electorate.

But if Bush and Schwarzenegger can be presented as guys you could have a beer with, no smarter than the rest of the class (maybe even less smart than most), then perhaps they can be passed off as being regular folks, friends of the little guy. This is no small achievement since they in fact represent big monied interests and, as Bush shows, can be counted on to deliver massive tax cuts for the rich. The secret to the right’s success in recent years has been its ability to disguise the fact that it does little but serve the interests of the financial elite. It’s been aided by frontmen who are simple talkers and action heroes and who successfully keep the focus elsewhere, while the rich help themselves to the nation’s treasury. Last month, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office released figures showing that the gap between the rich and the poor in the U.S. is the largest in 70 years. Terminate that growing inequality? Probably not.

Interestingly, the new right-wing populists, in addition to being mental under-achievers, also have significant character deficiencies - something that would be considered more of a problem if the media paid it more attention.

But the media downplayed the importance of Bush’s drunk driving conviction - and his obvious attempt to conceal it - when it came to light just before the presidential election. And the media hasn’t been very interested in Bush’s absence from his National Guard duty for months at a time during the Vietnam War - an absence that some observers believe constitutes the crime (punishable by death under American law) of wartime desertion.

Schwarzenegger, of course, is alleged to have committed what amounts to a series of sexual assaults, including forcefully reaching under women’s clothing and grabbing their breasts and buttocks. (Imagine if Monica Lewinsky had reported she’d been forced to go under the president’s desk.) Schwarzenegger fudges about the charges made by sixteen unrelated women, but generally admits to having been "rowdy."

Then there’s the report that he told an interviewer in the 1970s he admired some aspects of Hitler. The governor-elect claims he can’t remember this, but insists he now detests Hitler. Glad that got cleared up.

In this era of right-wing populism, American politics seems to have become a kind of equal opportunity employer - with the backing of big money, anyone can get the top job. No brains or character necessary.

  -I'd rather have a frontal lobotomy than a bottle in front of me


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