So Gray Davis lost and California gets the governor it -- but not my parents -- deserves: Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The painful fact is that I’m a lousy bettor, because with awful, doomed monotony I tend to back the underdog and the unlikely over a sure thing I dislike. This pays off only rarely and explains why I gamble very little. (For example, the last time I played blackjack, at the Mohegan Sun casino in Uncasville, Conn., I decided to hit on a 17, even though I would have busted on anything except an ace, two, three or four. The entire table moaned in anxiety and frustration and the dealer actually hesitated to make sure I knew what I was doing. When I awkwardly explained that I really wanted another card, at least one player gurgled something dark and exasperated at me and the dealer asked me, yes, again if I really truly wanted a card, explaining that I was likely to bust. Isn’t this a violation of dealer rules? I backed down, but still lost.)
When I predict what’ll happen politically, too, it always goes some other way no matter how logical my reasoning, and that’s what happened in California. Unbowed, I’m going to pundificate further anyway.
The problem with a Gov. Schwarzenegger, other than the one headline writers will experience, is that everyone wants to be Ronald Reagan, but strikingly few can be. Take note of President Bush, who was coming close for awhile but is now looking more like, well, George H.W. Bush. He has learned what Schwarzenegger is about to learn: Charisma only gets a politician so far, Teflon wears off and bad times, bad ideas and bad karma begin to stick. Schwarzenegger has nothing; even if his governorship is really Pete Wilson, part three, there’s little even Wilson, an ex-governor and Arnold adviser, can do to make California immediately functional again.
But there will be no recall of Schwarzenegger. Any Democrat who thinks there will be needs to remember that most sequels do poorly at the box office. California will be suffering recall fatigue, suddenly newly conscious of the madness of recalls and their expense -- the Golden State doesn’t have that much gold -- and Schwarzenegger will be waltzing through a honeymoon of sorts.
Things are probably really going to be sucking around the time Californians need to vote for president, and Bush is going to be even more unhappy with Gov. Gropinator than he was with candidate Schwarzenspanker. So, even given my caveat above about my betting tendencies (as in: Watch me to see which way not to go), I feel I still must explain my recent comments about Gen. Wesley K. Clark and the upcoming presidential election.
The field of Democratic candidates is going to thin out quickly. My gut says that, even though U.S. Sen. John Kerry will stick it out longest of the also-rans, it’s going to come down to Clark and Howard Dean, former governor of Vermont, and that Clark will pick up a lot of support going to candidates who won’t be around in November 2004. Barring scandals, he’s going to look more electable than Dean, who certainly won’t be drawing the same Republican swing voters. (That Clark-voted-for-Nixon-and-Reagan stuff is only a drawback before the primaries; when it comes time to draw votes, it’s going to look like a huge plus, and you can count on Clark campaigners alluding to the example of U.S. Sen. Jim Jeffords, another politician who stalked, disgusted, out of the GOP’s big tent. Jeffords, of course, is an independent who has already endorsed Dean, who is also from Vermont, but the Democrats will hijack him anyway.)
So Clark will be the Democratic candidate in 2004 and Bush will be the Republican, although many in the GOP will be gnashing their teeth and gnawing their fingernails in concern. Unless Bush gets very, very lucky, he will not be in the White House in 2005.
That’s why I say Clark is likely to be our next president ... and I’m crossing my fingers that the promise I see in Clark doesn’t dissipate the morning after.