TOPICS > Politics

Ins and Outs

November 17, 2003 at 12:00 AM EDT


SPOKESMAN: Ladies and gentlemen, the governor of the great state of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger! ( Cheers )

ROGER ROSENBLATT: Arnold Schwarzenegger becomes governor of California, and it is a victory for the outsider. That’s what everyone said, including Arnold. He ran on the outside ticket, a breath of fresh air, politics as unusual, a familiar idea in American election and in American everything.

ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER: We are here, ladies and gentlemen, to clean house.

ROGER ROSENBLATT: America loves outsiders so much, that no one ever wants to be identified as an insider. The insider is of the shady deals. The outsider is pure, free of established encumbrances. Even incumbent and former senators and congressman who run for president claim the status.

They run against Washington. They have never been to Washington. One assumes that during their years in Congress, they drove around the beltway and tossed in their votes from their cars.

If this is so, however, if everybody claims the role of the outsider as continually newborn American revolutionary, it suggests, paradoxically, that the outsider is the American insider. This in turn suggests that nobody wants to be where the power is; the power is thought to lie in individual renegades.

See monumental Washington or the monumental state houses of America, confirmed in their tired adamancy. But look, here to the rescue comes Jesse Ventura or Clint Eastwood or Sonny Bono or George Murphy or Ross Perot or Ronald Reagan to shake things up from the great outside. There is a basic anti- intellectualism at work in this, which is also all American. The national assumption is that the know-nothing is superior to the know-too-much.

ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER: We are going to say hasta la vista, baby to Gray Davis.

( Cheers )

ROGER ROSENBLATT: Fictional heroes such as Holden Caulfield and Huck Finn were opposed to formal education, their creative innocence was judged more virtuous. Washington Irving’s headless horseman story showed the pallid teacher Ichabod Crane as deserving of his fate. It is the unschooled boy, the natural man with good instincts, not the schooled, not the learned, who rises to the top.

ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER: First, I would just like to get to know you. ( Laughter )

ROGER ROSENBLATT: Come to think of it, Arnold may have got all the training he needed for the governorship when he served a term as kindergarten cop. Of course this raises the whole idea of the qualified. If knowledge and experience disqualify you for office, why not prepare by lifting weights? (Music playing)

The nation was founded by outsiders, and it always thinks of them reverently. Our rebel leaders, our inventors and cowboys, all stood outside a reality that required big dreams, and they dreamed their way in. A cyclical process is at work.

Outsider wins then governs, then soon becomes an insider requiring another outsider to come in and do things right. The implicit enemy is experience or history. Get too much of either, learn too much about the ordinary requirements of ordinary government, and watch out.

There’s a new gun at the saloon door or a cyborg crashing into a police station. (Car crashes) So good luck, Arnold. Good luck, California. As nutty as you may seem to the rest of the world, you are part of an old myth that doesn’t make much sense, yet sometimes works.

A breath of fresh air soon becomes the backroom choking in cigar smoke. But the myth goes on. Only the outsider can fix this mess. Only the one free of training or qualifications can make it right. Odd though it is, he appears irresistible.

I’m Roger Rosenblatt.