Terminator faces his most challenging role

PUBLISHED : Friday, 10 October, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 10 October, 2003, 12:00am

The tricky transformation from showbiz personality to political supremo has been accomplished so many times in the United States that it should come as no surprise that another movie megastar has secured electoral success.

But the sudden elevation of muscle-bound action star Arnold Schwarzenegger, otherwise known as the Terminator, to the governorship of California ranks as one of the more impressive examples of what has now become a familiar feature of American politics. The comprehensive election victory won by the Austrian-born immigrant with no previous political experience represents democracy in its purest form. It also suggests the American dream is one that can still be realised.

Arnie faced a tough campaign, but rode out the storm in true action hero style, triumphantly confirming his claim to be the people's choice. Now, the moderate Republican faces a much tougher task. For governing California, the world's fifth-largest economy and most populous US state, is going to provide the political debutant with a baptism of fire.

Torn apart by political infighting and facing a US$38 billion deficit, California is in trouble. A hero is what it needs. Some might suggest a financial wizard rather than a Hollywood actor would be more appropriate. But there is no reason to believe Schwarzenegger is any less likely to deliver than his more seasoned opponents. He has been backed by a high-powered team including billionaire businessman Warren Buffet and former secretary of state George Schultz. But a more important weapon at his disposal will be public support. The recall procedure that saw incumbent governor Gray Davis voted out of office is rare. The last governor to be recalled was in North Dakota in 1921.

The double vote, which first saw Gray ousted and then Schwarzenegger elected, served as a powerful expression of the people's discontent. Californians were able to remove a governor who had become deeply unpopular less than a year into his second term and replace him with someone they want to do the job. The vote has provided an outlet for public anger and provided the new governor with the opportunity to make a fresh start. Here in Hong Kong, where our options are rather more limited, we can only look on in wonder.

Whatever view we take of Schwarzenegger or his political stance, no one can fail to be impressed by his single-minded rise from Austrian farm boy and penniless US immigrant, to bodybuilding champion, businessman, movie star and now politician. His political ambitions have led him to follow in the footsteps of fellow movie stars Clint Eastwood and, notably, Ronald Reagan.

But now the Terminator must provide California with the Hollywood ending his supporters expect.