Free State needs some 'pumpitude' in its politics

THE BALTIMORE SUN

NOT ALL will admit it, but Marylanders are suffering from some serious California envy this summer, and I'm not talking about wistful longings for the mild weather of Carmel or a stroll through the vineyards of Napa. The Arnold -- that's what I'm talkin' 'bout. We all wish we had a story like The Arnold.

All we have is Arnold, Md.

And Arnold Bread.

And the attorney, Herb Arnold.

Sorry, my friends, but we don't have a story that can touch The Arnold for size and quality. This story has what Hans and Franz, the Arnold-inspired bodybuilders from Saturday Night Live, used to call "pumpitude." In Maryland, we don't have anyone or anything like The Arnold.

Our governor is Ehrlich -- he who vanquished the Kennedy cousin of Arnold's wife -- and he is no Arnold. There is no pumpitude there.

People certainly seem to like Ehrlich enough, but they do not speak of him in breathless tones unless they've just been jogging. On the other hand, there was such a buzz about Arnold at my supermarket the other day that, had she been able to utter something besides, "Please move your bananas," the robotic voice inside the self-checkout machine probably would have joined the conversation. Everybody is talking about Arnold.

The Terminator is eating us alive. Kobe Bryant could not pay for this kind of distracting news story.

Geraldo should roll out a television show, All-Arnold, All-The-Time News. I wouldn't watch any other channel. I'd give up SpongeBob.

Don't get me wrong. I like Maryland. It's my adopted state, and I am proud to say I live here. It has produced some good stories over the years -- Spiro T. Agnew, the savings and loan crisis, Donald Kroner crashing an airplane in Memorial Stadium after a Colts game, the Granite stump dump fire that burned for two years.

But we've never had a story like The Arnold.

California has produced tremendous cabernets, excellent nectarines, great movies the whole world wants to see and the nation's best stories, from the Donner Party to O.J. to this -- a Republican Austrian-American body-builder actor who played one of the most homicidal characters in cinematic history, who is running against a colorless sitting governor named Gray facing recall under the weight of a $38 billion state budget deficit.

It's a mudslide of news. It's a political earthquake. It's beautiful.

Marylanders look on with envy.

Commentators were quick last week to distinguish Arnold from Ronald Reagan. TV talking heads noted that Reagan had worked long and purposefully toward becoming a political leader before and after his Hollywood days, while Arnold simply seems to be parachuting into his first campaign.

I don't think there's much of a distinction beyond that. Reagan was familiar to millions as a heroic movie cowboy. In his last two Terminator films, Arnold was a sci-fi gunslinger protecting a woman and her child from evil cyborgs.

Both men capitalized on their celebrity to make the switch from acting to politics. Voters are suckers for celebrity, and today, far more than in Reagan's day, Americans regard politics as entertainment. So do the people who run television networks, cable channels and radio stations. Why all the shock if a mega-millionaire movie star jumps into a campaign? He has money, celebrity and the full aid and support of a fawning broadcast media.

We are going to see more of the rich and famous running for major office. The question is: Who?

And that's where Marylanders, for one bunch, suffer California envy. How do we compete with the Moonbeam State when it comes to celebrities with political ambition?

Let's face it: We'll have to do some major-league recruiting.

Our celebrity list is short. Cal Ripken, Eddie Murray, John Waters, Pam Shriver, Jim Palmer, Tom Clancy, Ray Lewis, Jim McKay -- you see what I'm saying? There's not much Arnold-like star quality there.

So we'll have to form a committee and do some recruiting.

Pat Sajak married a woman from Anne Arundel County, and he still calls Maryland home. He has possibilities. I can almost see him working out the state budget with a big spinning wheel, and Vanna White flipping line items on the big board.

Our best bet is Will Smith, who married Jada Pinkett, who is from Baltimore. We get the star of Independence Day and Men In Black to move back here and run for mayor, for starters, then governor, then president. Smith has saved the world from invading aliens at least three times that I can think of, and if his celebrity doesn't get him elected those accomplishments should.

That, my fellow Marylanders, is pumpitude.

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