First he was the Terminator.
Then he tried on an old pair of Ronald Reagan's shoes, but they were too big.
Then he channeled Pete Wilson.
And now he's parading around in Pat Brown's pajamas.
Like many Californians, I liked much of what Gov. Schwarzenegger talked about in his State of the State speech Thursday. He said he'd like to fix highways, build schools and fortify levees.
But he didn't just talk, nor did he merely dream. He seemed to be hallucinating, putting a bigger price tag on such projects — $222 billion — than even the Democrats had proposed.
While watching him talk, I wondered if members of the California Republican Assembly were having seizures. (Did he say billion — with a B?) They were already threatening to draft Mel Gibson if Schwarzenegger didn't shape up, pushing "Braveheart" into the ring against Conan.
Look, I know a lot of people think it was a smart move on Schwarzenegger's part to admit his mistakes and reinvent himself again Thursday, and they may be right. As the argument goes, Schwarzenegger is coming back to the safe California center for reelection purposes after last year's hard right swing ended in disaster.
But this ain't the center. With his latest bungee jump from the Capitol rotunda, Schwarzenegger crash-landed to the left of all his likely Democratic challengers. If he's still going to try to sell himself as the anti-politician, it might help to do something, here and there, that doesn't look like a desperate political lurch.
Of course, some observers insist this is no put-on, and we're now seeing the real Arnold.
How can anyone know?
From everything I've seen, the man's having a three-year, full-blown identity crisis.
Does Maria even know whom she's married to?
And who is she, anyway?
To the extent that Shriver was behind Thursday's performance, are we to assume she thought it would look perfectly kosher for the governor to do a political 180 in a span of a few months?
He reneged on a $2-billion school-funding promise. Now he's the educators' best friend.
He cut $10 million last year from a highway improvement bill. Now he wants to build an autobahn.
He's the anti-tax crusader who wanted to cut up the state's credit card and rein in spending. Now he's Der Schwarzenbonder, with a plan that would add $68 billion more to the existing mountain of debt he helped build.
I don't want to be a party pooper, but is there really much of a difference between bond repayment and new taxes?
"It's almost like he had a political breakdown," said Democratic strategist Bill Carrick. The equivalent, Carrick said, would be for Sen. Ted Kennedy to call a press conference tomorrow and say he was wrong on the war and now he wants to send in more troops, crush the Iraqis, and then invade Syria.
Even some Republican strategists are rolling their eyes. Arnie Steinberg said the governor's recent focus on infrastructure might seem more heartfelt if he had bothered to mention it back when he was talking about the passions that prompted him to run for office.
Not that a call for a public-private partnership infrastructure plan is a bad thing, Steinberg said.
But the $222-billion deal is a "very speculative calculation" in which the math doesn't seem to add up. (Not to mention that it's glaringly light on transit and heavy on more cars and smog.)
"I guess the real question was whether there were any grown-ups in the room with the institutional memory to realize that when Pat Brown attempted this sort of thing, the tax burden was less, Proposition 13 didn't exist and the state debt load was a lot less," Steinberg said.
Speaking of grown-ups, Stu Spencer, the former Reagan campaign manager and the grandfather of California GOP strategists, said he got several calls from Shriver last year asking his thoughts on a smart political course for Schwarzenegger.
"Just tell the son of a bitch to start governing," Spencer recalls telling her.
I don't know how much Schwarzenegger pays the numbskulls on his advisory staff, but he could have fired them all and just gone with those few words of wisdom.
Schwarzenegger's political inexperience really showed, Spencer said, when he attacked teachers and other groups last year rather than do the hard work of shepherding smart legislation and negotiating needed reforms.
"In my mind, he was confrontational all the time," said Spencer, whose advice still stands:
Start governing. I suppose we'll find out soon enough if Schwarzenegger has finally gotten the message, but I'm still too dizzy after Thursday night's speech to hazard a guess.
My concern is that having already played Reagan, Wilson and Pat Brown, for his next act, he's going to become Gray Davis.
Reach the columnist at firstname.lastname@example.org and read previous columns at latimes.com/lopez.<252>