Arnold’s political muscle needs some toning

MEMO TO: Arnold Schwarzenegger

FROM: Peter Bart

SAY IT AIN’T SO, ARNOLD. You’ve been dropping strong hints that you want to be the Republican candidate for California governor, which I suppose should come as no surprise. It figures that you’d want to follow a Reagan career path since you’ve been an intense party activist for some years now — a sort of Teuton Ron.

But since this column specializes in unsolicited advice, there are a few admonitions I’d like to direct your way. If you’re going to do this thing, at least you deserve a level playing field.

To achieve that, Arnold, these are some recommendations:

To begin with, try to feign a little modesty now and then. Confess that you’ve made some lousy investments, even if you have to invent them. You’ve even picked some bad scripts — admit it.

It’s important to stop pretending you’re perfect, Arnold. “Perfect” has become your favorite word. ” ‘The Sixth Day’ is a perfect movie for the whole family,” is a typical Schwarzenegger quote. I don’t think so.

Not everything that bears your name is a home run, Arnold. As evidence, when’s the last time you visited Schatzi on Main, the Santa Monica restaurant you opened with great fanfare a few years ago? The place has become a sort of Taco Bell for schnitzels. “It’s a little cold, but that’s Arnold,” one bartender explained not long ago. That’s not a good recommendation for a wannabe politician.

THE ORDINARY VOTER WOULD WARM to you if you’d put on a little weight, Arnold. A tummy bulge would make you more a man of the people. Again, an imperfection, however fleeting, would enhance your E.Q. — your empathy quotient. E.Q.s aren’t important for action heroes, but they are for politicians.

Similarly, it wouldn’t hurt for you to concede that your movie career has trailed off a bit. Films like “End of Days” or “The Sixth Day” represent a comedown for the man who gave us all those “Terminators,” but, again, you should turn this to your advantage. Instead of grumbling that Sony was crazy to open “The Sixth Day” against “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” why not play it the other way? Arnold the underdog — now that’s a solid political ploy.

After all, you’re still the poor immigrant weightlifter who rose to fame and riches. Premiere is promoting its scuzzy article about your alleged peccadilloes. And you had that little heart procedure a year ago. All that is solid E.Q. material.

A Kinder and Gentler Arnold could create a whole new underdog image to advance your political standing. It’s all a matter of media strategy.

WHICH BRINGS US TO THE PRESS, ARNOLD. You’ve got to stop boasting about how you snow the press during your myriad interviews. Reporters resent being snowed. Back in the days of “The Last Action Hero,” you once boasted about your prowess in giving 30 interviews a day. That effort didn’t help, Arnold. If anything, that movie was a classic example of over-hype.

Your party of choice, the Republicans, doesn’t go for bluster. “Arnold doesn’t fit the profile of the bland, cautious person we tend to choose as our governor,” one savvy political veteran was quoted as observing in the Los Angeles Times.

Remember, also, that California Republicans have exhibited a death wish in recent years, Arnold. The party’s strident opposition to abortion and gun control runs counter to the beliefs of the rank-and-file, polls show. Though you’re not exactly a moderate person, Arnold, you’re a moderate on these issues. So you’ll have to be deft in dealing with the John Ashcroft-like California Republican establishment.

Ronald Reagan was no overnight phenomenon. He spent years on the cold-chicken circuit, espousing his genial generalities. He was great at leveraging his celebrity status while at the same time presenting himself as a man of the people.

Can you bring that off, Arnold? You’re a lot smarter than Ronnie, that’s for sure. And if you run for governor and win, your slogan for re-election already is set in stone. “I’ll be back,” the posters will say. That is, if you’re not already president.

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