There are a few eerie similarities and some vast differences between the rise to power of Ronald Reagan and of Arnold Schwarzenegger.
In both cases the Hollywood stars brought new energy and new voters to the electoral process.
In both cases the candidates for the California governorship were initially dismissed as airheads (think “Bedtime for Bonzo” on the one hand and “Pumping Iron” on the other), but Reagan upset the status quo with a big win in November 1966. Schwarzenegger managed an even more amazing stunt in Tuesday’s recall vote.
The similarities pretty much end there.
Reagan had been involved off and on in Hollywood politics for years: At one time he was considered fairly liberal by mainstream Democrats. (He switched to the Republican Party in 1962.) Arnold’s run for the state office seems to have come out of nowhere, though no doubt all those Kennedy clan gatherings must have whet his appetite for the hustings fray.
As for their public personae, Reagan came across as folksy rather than focused, quipping to a reporter who asked what kind of a governor he would be: “I don’t know. I’ve never played a governor.”
Schwarzenegger by contrast has always projected a Schopenhauer-like will to power. In “Pumping Iron” (1975) he mused, “I was just always impressed by people who could be remembered for hundreds of years, or even, like Jesus, being for thousands of years remembered.” It was no doubt this singleminded focus that helped vault the Austrian-born farm boy with broken English to Hollywood action hero status.
Despite the laid-back demeanor, Reagan was one of the great political communicators, whose personal warmth often outweighed his intellectual wooliness; Arnold has so far been guarded about his specific political ideas and stilted in his delivery.
And whatever may have been thought about Reagan’s ideas, or lack thereof, no one questioned his moral probity; Schwarzenegger has had to do battle with a last-minute barrage of criticism about his treatment of women.
When Reagan bested Pat Brown for the governorship 37 years ago, Hollywood largely embraced the win, proud of its local son for having raised the esteem in which actors were then held.
Daily Variety enthused: “The whole entertainment business can take pride in the fact that one of its own now sits in a chair of national importance.”
This time around, Hollywood has been held at bay by Schwarzenegger himself, who has been curiously reluctant to vaunt his ties to the community or to express his views on issues directly impacting the town.
On the other hand, those in Tinseltown who have been outspoken during the recall campaign have been almost uniformly opposed to his election. Word is that those in the biz who are friends and sympathizers of Schwarzenegger have been actively discouraged from demonstrating their overt support.
If Reagan could count on Lew Wasserman as his direct conduit to Hollywood, it’s at this point anyone’s guess who, if anybody, will be Schwarzenegger’s.