Ira Chernus  
PROFESSOR OF RELIGIOUS STUDIES
UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO AT BOULDER

ARNOLD IN WONDERLAND: CURIOUSER AND CURIOUSER

"Why, I know Iíve seen him before," Alice thought. "But I donít think his name was Arnold Schwarznegger. IĎm sure I must have reached the very bottom of the rabbit hole."

However, the rabbit hole was much deeper than Alice suspected.

Returning to the Mad Hatterís tea party, she found that the Mad Hatter, the March Hare, and all the other guests she had once known were gone. In their place were a fabulously wealthy Republic businessman (GOP), a network television executive (TV), and a political public relations consultant (PR).

"2004 could be a disaster," TV moaned. "George W. is losing his appeal faster than a stick of used chewing gum. The Democrats have a field of nobodies to run against him. Next yearís presidential debates will probably get lower ratings than re-runs of Gilliganís Island. We wonít be able to sell political advertising. Weíll have to give it away."

"Thatís just why Iím here," GOP chimed in. "To save your day. Itís time to amend the Constitution, to get rid of the silly rule that says you have to be born in the U.S. to become president. When we heard Arnold was running for governor, my friends and I set up the 28th Amendment Campaign. We chipped in $10 million to get it started. But itís way bigger than that now. Of course we want to keep it quiet for a while. We figure weíll go public the day after Arnold is inaugurated."

TV breathed a huge sigh of relief. "íArnold For President.í It makes so much sense. After all, politics has always been part rational discourse and part show business. People once went to the Lincoln-Douglas debates the way they go to rock concerts today. With Arnold, it may be a bit less logic, a bit more glitz. Thatís just changing the proportions. But hey, itís the wave of the future, the wave that Ronald Reagan surfed for twenty years. We all survived. And ratings were sky high."

PR spoke up: "It makes my job so much easier. Politics is all about name recognition. Who ever heard of Cruz Bustamante? Arnold got all the coverage because he was already a star. No PR firm had to make him one. You couldnít make Bustamante a star of Arnoldís magnitude, no matter how much you spend."

TV felt a bit defensive: "Hey, we donít decide who the people want to see. We just give them who they want. Why should we waste time covering a loser like Bustamante if no one wants to see his face? Weíre in business to make money, you know."

"Exactly," GOP chimed in. "Thatís why we need the 28th Amendment Campaign. First, we get a massive TV blitz to get the amendment passed. Then Arnold runs in í04, and the public is glued to the screen from convention day to election day. Everybody wins. Of course, we may have a bit of a problem with the intellectuals. You know, the talking heads."

"No problem at all," PR assured him. "Iíve got the campaign all lined out. First: Why should the presidency be restricted to the native-born? Why shouldnít the people be able to choose the best person for the job, no matter where heóor sheówas born. Suppose we want Kofi Annan or the Dalai Lama?"

"Or Jackie Chan," TV quipped, only partly joking.

"Second:" PR continued, "Letís get practical. Look how many millions it would take to make Cruz Bustamante, or Howard Dean, or even John Kerry a household name. That money is corrupting our political system, as everyone knows. Letís take the money out of politics. Letís make sure that candidates for office are already household names. No need to spend millions to get people interested in Arnold Schwarznegger."

"Or Jackie Chan," TV quipped again, only partly joking.

"Right," PR continued. "Voters want a known product. They donít like the unknown, the untested."

Alice couldnít help laughing. "Arnold Schwarznegger is a tested political leader?" she burst in.

"Go away, little girl," PR retorted. "You donít understand politics at all. Arnold has proven himself where it counts. At the box office. Voting booth, ticket booth. Itís all the same."

"Weíll need some big stars to promote the 28th Amendment Campaign," GOP pointed out.

"Jackie Chan," TV responded, this time in dead earnest. "And how about Penelope Cruz? Thereís a Cruz everyone knows. We can flood the air with 30-second spots. Penelopeís beautiful pouting face, and the voice-over: ĎIts not fair. Why canít I be president?í Arnold wonít ever have to say a word. He can just sit there and grin like the Cheshire Cat."

"Thatís where I saw him before!" Alice exclaimed. "No matter how closely I looked at Arnold and how hard I studied him, there was nothing there but a huge grin. Naturally, I thought he was the Cheshire Cat."

Worried about the 28th Amendment, but relieved to have at least this one little mystery solved, Alice went on her way. Soon she came across a man in a suit with a Democratic Party lapel pin, and two beautiful people locked in a furious quarrel.

"Iím the male lead," the beautiful young man shouted. "I get to run for governor. You can run for lieutenant governor."

"Iíve had it with your male chauvinism!" the beautiful woman shouted back. "Itís about time California had a woman governor. So Iíll run for governor and you can be my lieutenant."

"Please, please stop this quarreling," the man in the suit begged. "Ben. J. Lo. Letís get this settled so we can begin the recall campaign."

"Curiouser and curiouser," was all that Alice could say.


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