Jonathan Alter and Karen Breslau compare the California recall to a high stakes reality TV show.

It turns out reality TV was a little tam–the stunts too predictable, the stakes too low. So someone had to conjure up a whole new genre of complexity and absurdity, where the contestant who “wins” doesn’t necessarily win and the cool if scary grand prize is not a Land Cruiser or a million dollars but leadership of the sixth largest economy on the planet, just behind France, a state of anarchy called California.

THAT SOMEONE WAS a fiery Progressive Era reformer named Hiram Johnson, who could never have imagined that his well-intentioned but poorly reasoned recall process would be reincarnated 92 years later as High Chaotic Concept: “Survivor” on steroids, “American Idol” with consequences just a tad more serious than whether Ruben will outsell Clay.

And, frankly, a lot more entertaining.

Schwarzenegger’s entry makes it hard to portray the whole thing as a right-wing plot. “He did to the Democratic Party what Rumsfeld wanted to do to the Baath Party–‘shock and awe’,” says longtime party activist Tom Hayden from the sidelines. Only someone unfamiliar with Schwarzenegger’s cunning and competitiveness would underestimate him.

Team Arnold is banking on a repeat of what happened in Minnesota in 1998, when Jesse Ventura brought thousands of young people to the polls who had never voted before (new registration closes Sept. 22). “Movie stars have constituencies like politicians. Arnold’s is 19-year-old Hispanic males. They’re the first in line to see his movies. If he gets them to the polls, watch out,” says Bill Whalen, a onetime adviser to former GOP governor Pete Wilson, whose team is helping pump up Schwarzenegger.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Paul says:

    geeze.. I don’t get it?

    What is so bad about a recall??? The Brits have a no confidence vote. It is sorta like making him run for reelection in the middle.

    There is one aspect that is being MAJORLY underreported.

    Davis is not being recalled because of a right wing plot. And contrary to popular belief 1.5 million people did not sign the petition because the economy is a mess.

    The thing that made this recall possible is that Davis lied during the election about the state of the economy.

    That is what put many people over the top. If Cali had fallen on bad times the people there could handle that. But the fact that he came out AFTER the election and said that he had lied about it during the election just hacked people off.

    Personally, I am glad to see him being held accountable to the voters.

    What on earth is wrong with people voting again when they get the truth?

  2. James Joyner says:


    I think the major reaction has been to the farcical nature of having everyone come out of the woodwork to run in a contest where, conceivably, someone could get 20% of the vote and become governor.

  3. Paul says:


    But that is a seperate issue. In my state you must have a majority to hold office. If Arnold get 25% and Cruz got 20% they would meet in a run off.

    Indeed, Davis only got 47% of the vote in the last election. Perhaps if they had a run off between he and Simon, we would not be here.

    my 2 rubles anyway..