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Jewish World Review March 23, 2001 / 28 Adar, 5761

Chris Matthews

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The thrill of Schwarzenegger -- I first met Arnold Schwarzenegger in an inner-city school in Philadelphia. It was last summer during the Republican National Convention, and this well-built white guy was wowing a big audience of sweltering black kids.

What was it, I asked myself, that created this palpable rapport between this fellow with a Teutonic accent and these African-American teenagers, both boys and girls?

The "Mr. Universe" thing -- that he'd made his name as a world champion body builder? The "Terminator" image he'd constructed on the movie screen?

I decided it was his basic, human authenticity. Here, in a bad neighborhood in summer-in-the-city Philly, was this 53-year-old guy in running shoes pitching physical fitness and healthy competition, the same sweaty stuff that took him to the top.

It's this "genuine article" sensation you get upon meeting Arnold Schwarzenegger that makes this $20 million-a-movie Austrian immigrant a serious Republican prospect for California governor next year. In a state beset by electrical blackouts and political grayness, he could loom next year as the star who lights up the Golden State sky.

I asked him at that first meeting why he, unlike so many Hollywood figures, became a Republican. He said it was something he saw on TV during the 1968 presidential battle between Richard Nixon and Democrat Hubert Humphrey.

"I was sitting in front of a television set, and I didn't even understand half of it because my English wasn't good enough then. It became apparent very quickly what Nixon stood for and what Humphrey stood for.


"Humphrey stood for government solving all our problems. Nixon said, 'No, let the people decide. Let the people make the choices of what products they want.' So I said to myself, 'This is great! I'm a Republican!' "My friend who was translating said, 'Oy vey! This is all I need!'

"That's where it really began," he said, "because I came from a socialistic country. I saw what the advantages and big disadvantages of big government are."

How does such rugged capitalism comport with his Inner City Games program?

"I came over here with a tremendous will, and there was nothing that could stop me from making it. I had this big vision of being the best in all of those different things. But what about the guy who doesn't have that drive? Should we just leave him behind? I think if you are a really good Republican you would go out and accomplish the things you want to, then use that power to pull along those who have been left behind."

A race for governor, which would put such Bush-style compassionate conservatism to the popular test, would obviously present risks.

Timing is everything.

Richard Nixon watched Gov. Pat Brown get booed mercilessly at the opening of Candlestick Park in 1961. A year later, after taking a licking from Brown, it was Nixon who had to suffer the booing.

Four years later, it was a different story. Pat Brown tried laughing off a challenge from actor/TV personality Ronald Reagan, only to find himself choking on Reagan's trail dust.

Gov. Gray Davis has been hit hard by California's historic energy crisis. But that's this year. Will the incumbent have control of events by next November? Will 2002 be a rerun of 1962 or 1966?

The gamble may appeal to a man who has defied critics and the odds since his youth.

Schwarzenegger was told as a kid that an Austrian could never make it in body-building, a world dominated by Americans. He became Mr. Universe six times. Even after his marriage to JFK niece Maria Shriver, he was told he couldn't make it in the movies, not with his accent and outlandish moniker. Even family members suggested he try something in the nutrition field.

He proved the critics wrong then. Next November he may do it again.

JWR contributor Chris Matthews is the author of Hardball. and hosts a CNBC show of the same name. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


03/13/01: Bush to New York (and California) -- Drop Dead!
03/01/01: Hillary does Hollywood?
02/27/01: A man of conscience
02/22/01: Clinton and AIDS
02/12/01: Crusaders
02/06/01: Use of office
01/30/01: Cramming for the Exam
01/24/01: George W. Corleone?
01/16/01: War and Atonement
01/09/01: A pair of Boy Scouts
01/04/01: Sen. Moynihan's career: 1976-2000
12/27/00: Powell a symbol of opportunity
12/20/00: Armistice
12/01/00: Forget Gush/Bore, Lieberman and Cheney are ones to watch
11/21/00: Dead men voting
11/15/00: U.S. politcal geography: One nation, divisible
11/07/00: A real electoral horror show
10/31/00: The big lie: Every vote counts
10/17/00: Play White House admissions officer
10/11/00: Scandalous lack of awe for the office
10/03/00: Bush-Gore and the ghosts of Kennedy-Nixon
09/26/00: Candidates' night and day sides
09/19/00: Hillary goes legit
09/12/00: AlGore's silent partner
08/23/00: Truth and beauty in Bubba's farewell
08/16/00: The nation's prom king
08/07/00: The good soldier
08/02/00: Welcome to Philadelphia --- we had the first...
07/31/00: Bush-Cheney ticket: A constitutional problem
07/26/00: If Bush is an IPO, Gore is a store
07/24/00: Will being 'better' sink Hillary?
07/19/00: Pre-convention calm?
07/17/00: AlGore is executing a double dose of imitation 07/10/00: Mexicans elect a Bush Republican
07/10/00:Another kind of McCarthyism
07/06/00: How Bubba's teapots clang
07/03/00: AlGore's latest hazard
06/29/00: No echoes in this presidential choice
06/26/00: Death joins the debate
06/21/00: Jerry Brown tells AlGore how to 'wage' campaign
06/19/00: Squishy logic for soft money
06/15/00: Citizen Kane, 113 years later
06/12/00: Kennedy-Nixon redux?
06/07/00: Bush says 'I do' to reality
06/05/00: Clinton's odd silence on his achievements
06/02/00: Pelosi, a voice for human rights
05/30/00: Bubba's escape hatches
05/23/00: Who typifies leadership?
05/19/00: Bubba's legacy involves AIDS
05/16/00: Dubyah's outlook for 'playoffs' remains perilous
05/11/00: Giuliani's travels
05/09/00: A Yale degree, a Bob Jones education
05/03/00: Show of force!
05/01/00: Abortion polls don't reflect reality
04/28/00: Bill Russell and American racism
04/24/00: Vietnam 25 -- The good, bad and ugly
04/19/00: Nader's threat to Gore in California
04/17/00: Berkeley politician visits with Elian's father
04/14/00: Clinton and the Castro curse
04/11/00: Men who saved Elián from the sea
04/06/00: Caine should coach politicians
04/03/00: No. 2 spots: Woman-to-woman?
03/29/00: Gray for veep and Gore might coast to victory
03/27/00: The secret life of a CIA wife
03/22/00: 'We're suckers for underdogs'
03/20/00: Bush's California dream vs. reality
03/06/00: Scary Gore vs. hopeful Bush
03/06/00: McCain's appeal to 'Reagan Democrats'
03/01/00: John McCain fits a hero's profile
02/28/00: Grading the American presidents
02/25/00: Clinton remains No. 1 issue
02/23/00: Will Ross Perot aid POW McCain?
02/18/00: McCain faces fury of GOP establishment
02/17/00: Citizen Springer
02/14/00: McCainia and the frisky independents
02/07/00: A prime-time primary for California
02/02/00: Clinton's final campaign: Take the blame
01/31/00: Which GOPer is willing to pay for his positions?
01/27/00: John McCain's gay radar
01/25/00: This time, candidates get 'authenticity' check
01/18/00: AIDS dooms 1 in 4 in tiny Swaziland
01/13/00: Complacency might be the campaign key
01/10/00: A choice, not an echo
01/06/00: The role of a lifetime
01/03/00: Dangers in Gore's dirty war
12/30/99: Churchill's fighting words saved the century
12/28/99: Candidate Gore's separation anxiety
12/17/99: Catch 22: Leading candidates don't lead
12/17/99: New Democratic leader on the horizon
12/15/99: Is Hillary clueless?
12/08/99: Taking Buchananism to the streets
12/03/99: Why are we so obsessed with 'spin'?
12/01/99: Donald Trump, 'Sinatra of Steel'
11/29/99: Why AlGore will be our next president
11/23/99: After the fall
11/17/99: Our conveniently forgetful president
11/15/99: Next president: Male, WASP, self-selected
11/10/99: Backroom Bill
11/08/99: Please don't feed the 'pander bears'
11/03/99: Battle of the Bubba clones
11/01/99: Pat Buchanan, kamikaze candidate
10/27/99: The year of the woman... voter
10/25/99: The Curse of the Bubba
10/21/99: GOP gives Clinton his finest hour
10/18/99: Clinton's last hurrah
10/13/99: Rough seas for Capt. Ventura
10/11/99: Gore targets Bradley's strength
10/06/99: Bradley's got the right Rx
10/04/99: Buchanan, Churchill and Hitler
09/30/99: Who'll spin political gold in Golden State — Gore or Bradley?
09/27/99: Here's a millennial checklist for candidates
09/22/99: The biography battle
09/20/99: Buchanan's new book is a must-read
09/15/99: Don't rule out Beatty
09/13/99: The man with the sun on his face
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The FALN: Hillary's Willie Horton
08/26/99: Bill's guilt fuels Hill's race
08/25/99: The seemingly inexhaustible strength of America's free enterprise
08/23/99: GOP candidates are weak also-rans
08/16/99: Bubba on Bubba
08/11/99: Hillary's agonizing attempts to understand
08/09/99: With warm regards, Richard Nixon
08/04/99: Weicker: real third party is on the Left
08/02/99: Dubyah's last hangover
07/27/99: Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh; capitalism is gonna win

© 2000, NEA