- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 7, 2003

LOS ANGELES.

This was almost the Terminator’s week, but not quite. California is the place where the fruits intersect with the nuts, and this week Californians got fresh competition as the reigning wizards of weird.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Terminator, blew the Episcopalians off the top of the news cycle just hours after the holy high rollers, in unconventional convention assembled in Minneapolis, elected as its first “openly homosexual bishop” an adulterer who abandoned his wife and children to move in with his male doxy. He’s to be teacher, counselor, and example of the faith taught by Jesus Christ.

An updated version of “The Gay Divorcee,” but this time without Fred Astaire or Ginger Rogers, will soon be at a theater near you. The gay bishop had earlier blown away Kobe Bryant as the front-runner in the media’s August celebrity stakes.

The Episcopal Church has been derided as “the country club at prayer” and purveyor of “the gospel for the gentry,” and the bishops set out this week to change all that, substituting indulgence for duty and gaiety for sobriety, succeeding beyond the fondest fantasies of the boys at the baths. At the end of the week the gay bishop made ready to set off for London to succor lesbian and gay Anglicans heretofore under the care of the archbishop of Canterbury.

Kobe Bryant showed up for a preliminary hearing in tiny Eagle, Colo., to answer the charge that he raped a young woman in a Colorado hotel. He emerged from the courthouse afterward to cheers, though possibly not cheers for rape (but you never know). In the spirit of our enlightened times, he has explained that he is not a rapist, but, like the gay bishop, an adulterer. He has certainly not abandoned his wife. To prove it, he takes her with him to press conferences to use as a prop. It’s what pols and celebrities do when they’re caught abusing their wives.

This leaves the Terminator as the celebrity family man of the tumultuous week. The chaos of California politics and the carnival created by the attempt to recall Gov. Gray Davis has unnerved nearly everyone here under the palms.

“Californians,” reports the Los Angeles Times, “from many generations of practice, are usually inured to insults from the jealous throngs who don’t get to live [here]. But the recall-sparked crescendo of craziness has landed with unsettling force — because so many of California’s own citizens have been throwing around the c-word.”

Kevin Starr, the state librarian, says he has defended California “in season and out,” but this time he is “throwing in the towel.”

“We sort of deserve it this time, don’t we?” he asks. “You’ve got a leading candidate deciding, or not deciding, on Leno. This is a society melting down into deliberate self-parody.”

Mr. Starr may be too hard on his state. California-Melt has been a favorite dish for decades. California has always been ground zero of zany. (Mixing metaphors is good, clean Hollywood fun.) Americans have always pushed west after wearing out, or wearying of, the places that birth or circumstance put them. Once the footloose, if not always the fancy-free, got to California there was nothing but blue water in front of them.

Crazy, along with creativity and energy, stopped here, and politics is often where old celebrities go. When you’ve terminated as many celluloid bad guys as Arnold Schwarzenegger has, running for high office is all that’s left to do. From the Gipper to Cooter to Gopher, the back lots are littered with celebrities gone bad.

Ronald Reagan is only the most successful, and the most famous, and he wasn’t even a top of the line actor. In fact, when one Hollywood producer heard that the Gipper had announced for governor, he said: “No, no, no. Gary Cooper for governor. Ronald Reagan for governor’s best friend.”

The Gipper was “the Natural,” to the manner born and a far better president than actor. He showed the celebrities how to do it, and over the years we’ve had George Murphy and Fred Thompson as U.S. senators, Jesse “the Body” Ventura as a governor, Helen Gahagan Douglas, Sonny Bono, Fred “Gopher” Grandy and Ben “Cooter” Jones as congresspersons, Alan Autry and Clint Eastwood as mayors and Shirley Temple as an ambassador. Shirley even had a drink named for her. Little girls of my acquaintance proudly order it to this day. Most celebrity candidates, like the Terminator, have been Republicans, perhaps to be near their money.

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