Wednesday, April 02, 2008

April 2008 Book Club Selection: The People's Machine, Joe Matthews

Arnold Schwarzenegger ushering in a new era of politics

Arnold Schwarzenegger is, without a doubt, a marvel of modern politics. Moreover, he may be the first legitimate political pioneer politics has seen in decades.

Schwarzenegger's evolution in the public eye has been truly remarkable. From claiming the governorship of California with 48% of the popular vote (as one in a field of more than 100 candidates that also featured a porn star and a sumo wrestler) to inspiring public ridicule by calling on the people of California to be his "power lifters" to rebounding from a cataclysmic round of special initiative referendums to earn a glowing approval rating, Schwarzenegger has consistently shaken off low expectations to not only earn the respect of Democrats and Republicans alike, but defy stereotypes in such a way that he literally forced people worldwide to reimagine politics.

In The People's Machine: Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Rise of Blockbuster Politics, Joe Matthews follows the governator's career from its humble beginnings as an Austrian bodybuilder/immigrant to one of the world's most famous people, to the defeat of his 2005 round of special elections.

In the meantime, Matthews provides those interested with a new blueprint for political success. What Theodore White's The Making of the President has been to the past thirty year's worth of would-be political visionaries The People's Machine will be to the next generation of political hopefuls.

Of course, not all of them will be able to actually use it.

As one would expect, Schwarzenegger's tale essentially begins during his reign as one of Hollywood's top draws -- although fame is a big part of it, it doesn't end there. Schwarzenegger's greatest asset, it turns out, is the revolutionary style in which he marketed his movies. It was during his time marketing such films as Terminator 2 and True Lies that Schwarzenegger stepped out from his rule as movie star and became the fully-fledged pitchman with the ability to sell himself to the entire state of California.

When Schwarzenegger finally made the decision to jump into politics, the skills he learned doing this time -- his skill with a deft soundbite and mastery of the art of spectacle -- served him well.

Those able to master the glitzy and polished salesmanship that has become Schwarzenegger's trademark and mix it with a candidate enjoying a considerable degree of fame will almost certainly have a good deal of success.

To prove that, one needs look no further than the success Warren Beatty and his closest counterpart, former Minnesota governor Jesse "The Body" Ventura for proof of that.

It's suggested over and over in the book that today's movie stars will be tomorrow's politicians. Whether or not this constitutes what one would consider a favorable state of affairs, one has to consider how politically active movie stars -- and celebrities in general -- have become and wonder if maybe, just maybe, it's true.

Should that happen, Schwarzenegger's governorship will almost certainly be looked to as a pivotal point in political history. Matthews' book will, in turn, be elevated to significant historical importance.

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