ARNOLD'S NOT LOOKING FOR THE LIMELIGHT NOW
by Robert Gelfand
American Reporter Correspondent
San Pedro, Calif
LOS ANGELES, Nov. 6, 2005 -- The interplay between politics and the media was intense last week. Here in California, Gov. Schwarzenegger is taking a page out of the Bush playbook for his campaign in support of three state ballot initiatives, and the local newspapers aren't fighting back.
Meanwhile, at the national level, right-wing pundits are suffering from amnesia.
It's curious that all of a sudden, conservative pundits never heard of Scooter Libby. Within the past few days, Ann Coulter said that she had just learned his name "ten minutes ago."
Libby is an important architect of the neo-conservative movement. He has been on the liberals' worry-list for years. Yet Coulter, an outspoken Bush supporter and the author of numerous anti-liberal books, claims to have been ignorant of his existence.
Can anyone believe that Coulter didn't know who the Vice President's chief of staff was? Permit me my skepticism.
Perhaps the strategy among Bush apologists is to paint Libby as some unimportant small-fry, the proverbial mid-level bureaucrat who acted on his own. This gives the party faithful and people who aren't paying much attention a line to cling to.
There are two problems with this. First, it is anything but believable. Second, anybody who wants to use this line is thereby confessing abysmal ignorance. How can you know anything about Vice President Cheney's actions and policies if you don't know anything about Libby? Yet Coulter and at least a few right wing talk radio hosts have tried this approach within the past week. It remains to be seen whether they can continue to get away with it.
California voters may wonder why it is that they never hear about Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's public appearances in advance. Yet there he is, night after night on television, speaking to adoring crowds.
Voters may remember that the Bush-Cheney organization was careful to control its audiences during the 2004 campaign. It would appear that California's governor has adopted a similar approach.
Here is how one such appearance was handled locally a few days ago: blockquote> An email went out to a limited audience here. It read as follows: "We need business people who support the Governor to show up in Long Beach tomorrow (10/2/05) (sic) (near the port) at 9:45 to hear the Governor speak on Prop 76 and its impact on goods movement in the region. The event should end by noon. If you can make it, or know someone who fits the bill please email (email address omitted). He will reply with the address of the rally. I will need your name and address and tel. for the check in. We also need enthusiastic folks to rally at the entrance to welcome the Governor's motorcade with signs and cheers. We'll provide the signs if they don't have time to make their own. This is a great opportunity for young folks.
There is no mention of a secret password, but other than that, this is right out of a bad spy novel. The secret location will be revealed to the select group, who then will be allowed to attend the secret meeting.
The whole thing comes across as both silly and cowardly. After all, Schwarzenegger ran for and won the recall election that put him in the Governor's chair. Why is he now so afraid to face the public? Sure, he would have to take some pointed questions, but real leaders face up to such obstacles.
On Saturday, the Daily Breeze ran a front page story about another Schwarzenegger campaign stop. This time, it was a visit to a helicopter factory in Torrance (a Los Angeles suburb, and home to the newspaper). The governor spoke in front of a crowd of workers (looking distinctly uninterested, if the press photograph can be trusted) and a bright red helicopter.
The article in question (Governor brings cause to Torrance, by Denise Nix, Nov. 5, 2005) reads more like a press release from the Schwarzenegger campaign than a news story. It explains that Schwarzenegger was campaigning on behalf of four ballot initiatives.
In terms of the initiatives themselves, the article simply recites arguments Schwarzenegger gave in favor. There is no mention of the fact that at least three of the initiatives are, according to polls, being soundly rejected by the voters and the fourth is up for grabs. The article says nothing about the exclusion of the public from the governor's events.
Two short paragraphs buried at the end of page 16 mention that protesters were nearby, but do not explain the circumstances that keep protesters so separated from their elected leaders.
There is more than a little irony here. One of the ballot initiatives that Schwarzenegger supports would severely impact the ability of workers' unions to collect and spend money on political activities. If it passes, unions won't get to collect money for political work automatically. Of course, workers already have the right to opt out as a matter of law, but this fact hasn't halted the proponents' advertising campaign. They have been trying to sell it as some sort of worker-rights issue.
Workers, the argument goes, will finally have the right to be left alone when it comes to politics.
This sacred principle wasn't considered to be so important when it came time for the workers to be rounded up in order to provide a crowd scene for what was, after all, a public-relations stunt staged to aid the governor's agenda. Apparently it's okay to mobilize and propagandize the workforce if it's in the service of conservative doctrine. It's just not okay to allow unions to raise and spend money in response.
Apparently this irony was lost on the reporter and the editors. A call to the Daily Breeze to obtain comment on this article was not returned.
To give credit where it is due, Breeze columnist John Bogert saw through the whole thing in short order. His column explained how the governor's appearance was orchestrated to give television a story, whether or not the governor actually said anything of note.
By Saturday afternoon, Schwarzenegger's bunker tactics had become national news when actor and rumored gubernatorial candidate Warren Beatty and his wife Annette Bening were turned away from one of Arnold's speeches.
Beatty was with a protest group in its own bus that has been dogging the Schwarzenegger campaign bus. Beatty and Bening tried to gain entrance to a Schwarzenegger event at a San Diego area aircraft hanger, but press aides turned them away with the excuse that they were "not on the guest list."
It used to be that politicians wanted people - lots of people - to come out and hear them speak.
The fact that Arnold's destinations are more like military secrets than public celebrations is the current reality. But you would be hard put to find any sense of outrage among the local press or their editorial writers about this parody of the electoral process.
Instead, politicians avoid the people in order to go straight to television, and the newspaper writers accept this as if it were some immutable law of nature.