- The Washington Times - Friday, July 4, 2003

Two movie-industry titans vying for high state office? It could only happen on the Left Coast: Not just one actor, as in Ronald Reagan’s successful campaign to boot out California Gov. Pat Brown in 1966, but two — Rob Reiner, accomplished director and former star of the TV sitcom “All in the Family,” and action-flick icon Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The chattering class is licking its chops at the prospect — remote but not ruled out by the parties concerned — of such a glittery gubernatorial contest in California.

An entertainment-biz pipe dream, a cable pundit’s fantasy, you say? Both parties nominating untested celebrities, turning a statewide election into a circus?

Pshaw. Fat chance.

But consider this not implausible scenario:

If the Republicans’ effort to recall embattled Gov. Gray Davis succeeds this fall, Mr. Schwarzenegger, who has been taking advice from GOP strategist George Gorton, may find a galactically high-profile special election against an unpopular career politician irresistible.

No one denies that against the former Mr. Universe, the considerably less muscular Mr. Davis, who weathered his state’s energy crisis but is under fire again for reportedly fibbing about California’s yawning budget deficit, is beatable.

And in 2006, the natural end of Mr. Davis’ current term, Mr. Schwarzenegger, with two years in office under his belt, would have to face another election — when Mr. Reiner and state Democrats might find it more sensible to stage the ultimate Hollywood showdown.

How would such a race look?

We all know that Mr. Schwarzenegger is a moderate Republican who likes to make money. (Ex-Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis’ Northeastern tax-and-spend fiscal policies would “tuhminate” the U.S. economy, the actor said, stumping for then-Vice President George Bush on the campaign trail for president in 1988.)

But he’s squishy on social issues and — potentially another wild card — is married to Maria Shriver, a member of the Kennedy clan and the daughter of a man, Sargent Shriver, who once testified before Congress during the Johnson administration that poverty could be eliminated in, oh, say, 10 years.

We all know, too, that Mr. Reiner is a conventional Hollywood liberal, an unabashed bed-wetting leftie, a Friend of Bill. He’s not unlike his character on “All in the Family,” the bien-pensant Mike Stivic, affectionately known as “Meathead.”

Moreover, both run cause-y, feel-good organizations, Mr. Reiner the I Am Your Child Foundation, which raises awareness about early-childhood education issues, Mr. Schwarzenegger the National Inner-City Games Foundation, which funds after-school and summer activities for underprivileged youths.

Neither, however, has ever run for political office or has any voting record to speak of.

So how do we measure the minds of these two men? How can we confidently predict how they would run the most populous state in the union?

Why not judge them, however prematurely, on the records they do have — their creative roll calls, as it were, their movies?

Conveniently, both have had long careers, including a pair of films just released in area theaters.

Mr. Reiner directs and has a bit role in the romantic comedy “Alex & Emma,” starring Luke Wilson and Kate Hudson, while Mr. Schwarzenegger reprises his role as a cyborg hero in “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.”

In a virtual on-screen match-up between these two flicks, Mr. Schwarzenegger comes out on top by a long mile. His good-guy terminator is fearless and fiercely loyal, never breaks a promise and single-mindedly pursues his mission despite all obstacles.

Sure, he’s a machine, but we shouldn’t hold that against him until we’ve given cyborg politicians a chance. They can’t be any worse than the flesh-and-blood variety.

The milieu of “Alex & Emma,” a flaky attempt to bottle the magic of Mr. Reiner’s “When Harry Met Sally,” is one of hopeless romantics and hypochondriacs who fear commitment — not exactly leadership credentials in a state susceptible to inner-city riots, rogue cops and serial killers.

Score one for Mr. Reiner, though, for his direction of “A Few Good Men.” Surprising for a movie penned by “West Wing” writer Aaron Sorkin, this star-studded vehicle was a nuanced, thoughtful look into U.S. military culture, a good sign for a boomer who never served and who probably looks at the armed services through the fogged-up prism of Vietnam.

Conversely, Mr. Schwarzenegger’s pretend experience in the military, starting with “Commando,” is a little troubling. His vigilante hero in that schlocky ‘80s action flick, while decidedly brave and capable, displayed no regard for traditional channels of command.

Mr. Schwarzenegger’s commando character clearly would not be comfortable with the constitutional boundaries of his job. And that’s not counting his comparatively minor disregard for the rules of civil aviation, like the one against jumping out of commercial jets, a definite Federal Aviation Administration no-no.

And can we really trust a candidate who, as in “True Lies,” was so heavily involved in international espionage?

As for “Predator”: Conventional rules of military conduct couldn’t apply to Mr. Schwarzenegger and company (including one actor who already has made it to a governor’s mansion, Jesse Ventura) battling a hostile alien life-form. So he deserves a little latitude there.

On the amusement side of the ledger, Mr. Reiner’s directorial debut, “This Is Spinal Tap,” was a groundbreaking piece of work, showing a wickedly ironic sense of humor, which is a must for any potential leader.

Compare the mirthless Adolf Hitler to the brandy-gulping one-liner machine Winston Churchill. Or the do-nothing irony of Calvin Coolidge to the do-everything romanticism of Woodrow Wilson.

Mr. Schwarzenegger is no slouch in the humor department, however. “Kindergarten Cop,” a not-half-bad little action-comedy, displayed the softer side of the mesomorphic Austrian. His easy rapport with 5- and 6-year-olds bodes well, indeed, for his relations with Democratic legislators in Sacramento.

Yet Mr. Reiner has it over Mr. Schwarzenegger in enrapturing capabilities. The former’s adaptation of William Goldman’s novel “The Princess Bride” was a matchless adventure-fable.

Compare that to the “Conan” movies. Ouch.

Mr. Schwarzenegger, though, garners lots of points for his remarkable prescience in the movie “Twins.” In this 1988 film dealing with genetic engineering, a scientific discipline that had yet to become the rage it is today, Mr. Schwarzenegger, playing a DNA-programmed physical specimen with a short, dumpy, accidental twin brother (Danny DeVito), exhibited a remarkably balanced view toward progress and traditional values.

Perhaps the most on-point movie made by either of our subjects is Mr. Reiner’s “The American President,” another Sorkin-penned outing that might just disqualify the auteur from ever serving in public office.

Under Mr. Reiner’s direction, the fictional American president, played by Michael Douglas, was a card-carrying member of the American Civil Liberties Union, seriously considered requiring car manufacturers to cut emissions by something like 20 percent and actually uttered statements like, “We’re gonna get the guns” at press conferences.

Now, whatever the merits of such loyalties and objectives, they reveal an utter lack of connection with political reality — with the “facts on the ground,” as the jargon goes.

The president as conceived by Mr. Reiner and Mr. Sorkin is not a remotely realistic creation; he’s the kind of “maverick” that the cognoscenti in Hollywood and the New York Times editorial board wish the rest of us benighted saps wanted to rule us.

Such an acute detachment from reality would not serve the state of California well.

But then, neither, perhaps, would the guy who starred in “Hercules in New York” and appeared on a television game show with Richard Dawson.

That was in — oh, sweet prophecy? — “The Running Man.”

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