Memo to Arnold: Stick to the Script
By Paul Magnusson
To: Arnold Schwarzenegger, candidate for Governor of California
From: A guy who has covered politics for 31 years as a journalist
A fine first press conference on Aug. 20. You kept to the script, emphasizing your strengths: You've got "lots of money," so you don't need to take campaign cash from special interests. "No baggage," you told the assembled press as you introduced your new economic team of Warren Buffett and former Secretary of State George Shultz. "I will be totally independent" in cleaning up the Golden State's fiscal mess, you said. And those were great sob stories about ordinary Americans being taxed from sunrise, "when they first flush the toilet," to sundown, when they go to sleep.
As for why you're running, you're a grateful American, a naturalized citizen who came here penniless, who now just wants to give something back to your adopted country in the form of public service. This is perfect. So far, you've waged a brilliant political campaign -- right from the beginning. You outfoxed the media by having your advisers tell reporters you weren't running, then telling Jay Leno on The Tonight Show that you were. This created huge buzz.
Now, all you have to do is to make it to October without a slipup, and you'll be living large in Sacramento, driving your Humvees and smoking those big cigars around the capital. (Come to think of it, keep those cigars and Humvees under wraps until October.) So how do you keep the momentum going and avoid mistakes?
Whatever you do, don't listen to the political correspondents who are whining about how you won't discuss the issues. You know the script as well as anyone.
"I'll be addressing those issues soon." Coming out with positions on every little thing -- like the media is demanding -- is deadly. Demanding that you do is a trap set by journalists so they can trip up the front-runners. Besides, political reporters don't care about the issues. They're into campaign "war chests" and endorsements and scandals and hanging out with colorful campaign "advisers" who feed them tidbits of campaign gossip.
"I'll drive." Great line from your Terminator 3 movie -- Rise of the Machines -- when you pull the driver from the fire truck and use the big rig to bash the bad guy. That's what everybody likes about you -- you're an action hero. "Trust me," you keep saying. "I'll take care of things." Nobody really wants to hear some long recitation on how you'll address health care, or low school-test scores, or leaking storage tanks. Think about how your fellow actor of few words, Clint Eastwood, got elected mayor in 1986 of Carmel, Calif., after he established his tough-cop persona. Remember his "Go ahead, make my day" line? It worked for him.
"I am a cyborg.... Living tissue on a mechanical frame.... Emotions aren't part of my subroutines." More great stuff. This means you don't need friends, you don't need praise, you just need the right programming. So don't be appointing any more of your friends as advisers, like billionaire investor Buffett and old Washington hand Shultz. This may cause apoplexy among Republican conservatives. But they're already apoplectic over Buffet pointing out that California's tax system is in need of fixing. Conservatives don't want to fix taxes -- they want to be rid of them entirely. Just let them think that you have a full set of conservative subroutines in your CPU.
"Hasta la vista, baby." "I'll be back." Your best lines in a movie -- ever. Now let everybody know you mean them -- that you're now a permanent fixture on the nutty, celebrity-obsessed, California political scene. Even if you don't win in October, you could run for some other political office or throw your fortune at some new ballot initiative. This will scare your mainstream opponents into not making fun of your muscles, accent, or lack of experience. Fortunately for you, the majority of your 135 gubernatorial opponents -- porn stars, bounty hunters, fortune tellers -- put you in the mainstream. Stay there.
And learn a lesson from John Glenn's 1984 run for the Democratic Presidential nomination. Back then, Glenn's campaign advisers told me, "We want to downplay Senator Glenn's experience as an astronaut and remind voters that he's actually been a United States senator for nine years, dealing with the important issues."
They were true to their script all right: Glenn's TV ads emphasized his Senate experience and his vow to restore fiscal responsibility to Washington, even if it meant raising taxes. Never mind that Glenn was a bona fide national hero -- he was a fighter pilot on 149 combat missions in World War II and Korea, and he was the first American to orbit the earth.
Glenn lost -- big time.
Veteran journalist Magnusson first cut his political teeth covering the Nixon-McGovern Presidential race of 1972
Edited by Douglas Harbrecht