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Last Updated: Friday, 5 October 2007, 17:29 GMT 18:29 UK
From Conan to Governator
By Tim Egan

Arnold Schwarzenegger, Al Gore and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa
The Arnie and Al show goes on
When Arnold Schwarzenegger urged the Conservative Party conference to address climate change, it underlined his reinvention from bodybuilder to green campaigner and respected politician.

There he goes again - at the United Nations, teamed up with former US Vice President Al Gore to press for quick action on climate change.

He waves his hands, points his fingers, pounds the podium, exhorting another nations to follow his lead.

And there he is via satellite to Britain, a gusher of advice on how the Conservatives can win in the UK, by stressing their green credentials.

And here he is back home, meeting with members of his own political party - as the keynote speaker, the star attraction - and he tells them the last thing they want to hear. He says they will soon be obsolete - dinosaurs - unless they change.

He still mangles both the Queen's English and the breezy dialect of his adopted home

This improbable political dynamo is the 60-year-old, Austrian-born action hero, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The former Mr Universe looks like he's trying to live up to his old title. He is everywhere, the most famous immigrant in America and the unlikely face of a new politics.

By profession, he is a bodybuilder and a film star. He spent most of his adult life in a gym, pumping himself up while reading self-help manuals.

You probably know him as Conan the Barbarian, Kindergarten Cop or Terminator 1, 2 and 3. He was the cyborg who deadpans: "I'll be back" and "Hasta la vista, baby."

He still mangles both the Queen's English and the breezy dialect of his adopted home - that being Cal-i-forn-eee-ah. Now, of course, he's the "Governator", as T-shirts in the Sacramento airport proclaim.

Political pretzel

It was a joke when Ahh-nold was first elected governor of California, in a bizarre recall four years ago. In his first year in office, he came on strong, calling Democrats "girly men" and going after unlikely political opponents like nurses and teachers.

His approval ratings tanked. A Republican in a Democratic state, he looked like he was headed for a short-run in the electoral theatre.

But this son of a small-town police officer did what he has always done: he reinvented himself - no doubt aided by his wife, Maria Shriver, a Democrat from the Kennedy dynasty. He told voters he made mistakes and he needed to practise humility.

Talk about girly men - no more muscle politics for this muscle man. And the makeover worked; Schwarzenegger won a full-term last year by a large margin.

Cars in San Diego
California is heavily car-dependent
Since then, he has been a whirl of activity, defying expectations of both major parties. But he has also drawn fire as a political pretzel, twisted in whatever shape will keep his approval ratings high and unwilling to take truly unpopular stands.

The governor did put California on a path to be the leader, not just in the United States, but in the world in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. He issued a series of executive orders and set goals that go beyond anything the European Union has yet done.

How could he possibly pull this off in California, where the car is still king, even though it's most often found in the still-life of the state's perpetual rush hour?

One way Schwarzenegger proposed is to put a million solar-energy roofs amidst the sea of red tiles that blanket the California exurban landscape.

Another way is to lure technology and venture-capital money, prompted by the governor's mandates, to come up with clean energy or else walk away from one of the world's great consumer markets.

Hummer to hybrid

There are legions of people in California working in garage start-ups, waiting to be the next Google or the next Yahoo of clean energy. The governor gave them more than enough incentive.

Keep in mind, California is growing by more than a million people a year. And keep in mind that California is not going to become a nation state of bike riders and train-takers in one, or even two, generations.

Schwarzenegger pledged to do his own part, in his own action-hero way: he converted his big Hummer to a hybrid, using a fraction of the gas that a normal Hummer would use.

The leader of the governor's own party, President Bush, has been at the centre of domestic criticism that he is foot-dragging through an epic that many people see as the issue of the day.

Just three years ago, Schwarzenegger made campaign appearances on behalf of Mr Bush, during his last run for the presidency.

In the absence of any federal initiative on climate change, there is a vigorous grass roots movement
So, it came as somewhat of a surprise when Schwarzenegger threatened to sue this very federal government if it did not take steps to curb greenhouse gas emissions. They barely talk now. And forget about any joint appearances.

The governor is more likely to show up with the one-time Democratic nominee for president, Al Gore. At the United Nations last month, it was the "Arnie and Al" show as they shared the spotlight on this issue.

"One responsibility we all have is action," said the governor, using his favourite word, and then, in case anyone missed the point, he shouted: "Action! Action! Action!"

It was the same exhortation he gave Conservative leader David Cameron on Sunday. "People want action and results," he said. "Not ideology and stalemates."

Schwarzenegger does not even try to contain his glee as he attempts to seize the leadership void. In the absence of any federal initiative on climate change, there is a vigorous grassroots movement among mayors, governors, town councils. At the head of the parade is the Governor of California.

An American Sparta

On another issue, health care, the governor has vowed to give every Californian guaranteed medical care - an audacious plan favoured by many of the state's leading Democrats, much to the chagrin of the governor's party.

Schwarzenegger is also at odds with fellow Republicans over immigration, holding himself up as a shining example of what can happen to a person who comes to this country with nothing but ambition. The immigrant-bashing that some members of his party have exhibited is going to doom Republicans with Latinos - the fastest-growing major ethnic group in America, says the governor.

Now he can get carried away, somewhat, with his zest for California nationalism. During a recent speech, he compared the Golden State to ancient Greece: "California has the ideas of Athens and the power of Sparta." The analogy ended just short of a comparison of the governor with Hercules.

For all of this, you would think that Arnold Schwarzenegger has changed his political stripes, from Reagan Republican to New Century Democrat. But no, he says Ronald Reagan remains a hero and he remains a Republican.

Schwarzenegger in 1967
Before Hollywood, Schwarzenegger's fame was as a bodybuilder
Still, the governor seems to be creating his own political hybrid - one that defies easy expectation. He seems to be making it up as he goes and he seems to be having great fun while he does all of this.

At the recent Republican state convention, Arnold threw down the gauntlet, telling members of his own party that they had to change or risk becoming irrelevant.

The party has lost 320,000 members in California, the nation's most populous state, since 2005, the governor said. People who call themselves independents may soon outnumber registered Republicans.

"In movie terms," he said, "we are dying at the box office. We are not filling the seats." Reaction was muted, though he was not booed. The party is in trouble, but loathe to change.

The next big indicator of how far out on this plank the governor is willing to walk will come soon with his decision on gay marriage. For the second time in three years, California legislators have approved a bill to give same-sex couples the right to marry.

Were the governor to sign the bill, some say, it would really change the views of his party. But he has indicated he will veto it, following the wishes of voters who turned down gay marriage when it was a California ballot measure seven years ago.

President Arnie?

You could probably make a case that Schwarzenegger has evolved into Euro-Arnold, in the mould of Angela Merkel of Germany. In that sense, he has simply come home politically to the secular centrism of European democracies.

Another way is to see him as pure opportunist - as many Democrats and some Republicans charge - sensing that, as he said, his party will be box office poison for some time and the only way to stay popular is to change.

No matter the motive, there may be no more unlikely or unpredictable politician in the land today than the "Governator".

So what's next? Some people want him to run for president, even though the constitution prohibits someone who is not native-born American from holding the highest office. These fans think there should be a constitutional amendment to allow him to run. Fat chance.

But in one sense - that is, the realm that the governor is most familiar - he is already president. Check out The Simpsons, the film cartoon that has done the kind of box office that Arnold appreciates.

The leader of the free world in The Simpsons is none other than President Arnold Schwarzenegger. Yes. He's back.

Below is a selection of your comments.

Thank you for this very interesting article on our Governator. I have been living in California since the last months of the former Governor's administration, and from the moment Governor Arnold took over, you knew who was in charge. In addition, nowadays, California feels like a whole different place. There seems to be a whole lot more money going around. Here in the Bay Area (San Francisco), there are several big construction projects going on, many spanking new Benz driving around our road, and talking about roads, the State is fixing our roads! Back to Governor Arnold, I respect the man; he came to this country like every inmigrant, and everything he accomplished has been a product of his hard work. In short, he embodies the American ideal. If the constitution is modified to allow him to run, I will be proud to give my vote to someone who deserves to be called Presidentor.
EV, walnut creek, ca

This article is simply glorifying Arnold Schwarzenegger and his iconic film status, there is no proof of what he has achieved for the state of California and its citizens other than his optimistic stance on climate change.
Tomos Jones, Aberystwyth, Wales, UK

Well, after all the barbs Arnie received about some of his move performances and past indiscretions, he still continues to climb the ladder in the land of the free. Who would of thought that Arnie would be the man to bring the American Republican Party into the 21st century? People may question his motives, but all politicians have motives, as Arnie says, people want "Action and Results" not a bunch of ?girly men? talking about what might or might not happen. Arnie is smart enough to see that the Republicans inability to do anything about climate change may be their downfall, but Arnie, who is used to fighting when the chips are down, isn't going to let that happen. I only wish we had someone here in Australia who didn't care about pulling the party line and did what he or she felt was right. Stuff your constitution America, elect Arnie for President now!
Sibba , melbourne

We need more people in Politics like Arnold , who has less experience in politics but don't indulge them self in in nonsense layers of bureaucrats so at the End produce result that just a sweet sounding talks without any results with other Politician....
Yogesh Karki, Springfield VA

It was very interesting to see Arnold run as a governor, everyone you can think of made fun of his efforts and no one ever took him seriously. However, he proved himself to be worthy of being the "governator" and has managed to implement changes no other governor has even tried to hint at the least. What I like about him is his drive and the willingness to accomplish goals and make changes. Good for him and he truly is accomplishing his American Dream.....Honesly, I wouldn't mind having him as a president, it sure is better than anyone we have running right now from both sides!!!!!
Concerend, USA

As a native of 'Cal-i-forn-eee-ah' myself, having moved to the Uk, I am proud of the governor that my entire family voted for. While it might seem a joke to some, to me he is proof of the American dream. Sure, he has done some dubious film roles, but now he is one of the most progressive and popular leaders in the West.
Cali ex-pat, Bangor NI

While this article addresses most of the changes the Governator has brought to himself and the state of California, I did not see any research or comments with regard to the educational system. Most importantly that bilingual education was eradicated in a state where many of those who live in depressed economic areas speak Spanish or are in need of bilingual services.
Abril, Bronx, NY

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