Despite what the past month may have led you to believe, heroism in war is not the only way for a politician to acquire the patina of manliness. Both last night’s convention headliner—whose battles have all been fought with blanks and CGI—and tonight’s —who repeatedly had “other priorities” when he was called to service—nonetheless exude the machismo so favored in post-9/11 politicians. At first glance Dick Cheney and Arnold Schwarzenegger seem polar opposites. But if they were to star opposite each other in a movie, there would almost certainly be that scene where the corporate villain, staring down the action hero, plays the bad guy’s eternal trump card: You and I are very much alike. Indeed, Schwarzenegger is in many ways the Disney version of Cheney. Both project a macho, almost callous, sense of righteousness. But while Schwarzenegger takes a genuine delight in his mission, Cheney glowers at his disciples, even when he’s smiling. “Standing in front of that audience giving a speech is about as appealing to him as dental surgery,” vice-presidential scholar Timothy Walch told the Associated Press yesterday. “It almost requires him to be passionate. That’s tough for him.” Delegates might deny it, but wake them at 3 A.M. and they might admit that they secretly yearn to see Cheney dropped from the ticket.
It won’t happen, of course. As much as Cheney is a liability, dropping him would be a greater one. Bush has built his candidacy on the idea of not changing horses in midstream; ditching Cheney would give voters the psychological excuse to ditch Bush too. But as a what-if fantasy, it’s hard to think of a better replacement than Schwarzenegger. It helps Schwarzenegger in this scenario that, thanks to the lingering nativism of the U.S. Constitution (and barring an unlikely amendment), he’s virtually the only convention speaker other than Miss America who isn’t already being handicapped as a 2008 presidential candidate. From the beginning, Cheney’s lack of desire for the Oval Office was one of his great strengths to George Bush, who wanted a partner who would never undermine him in pursuit of his own agenda.
Yes, social conservatives chafe at Schwarzenegger’s tolerance for homosexuality. (As he put it in that infamous Oui interview, “I have absolutely no hang-ups about the fag business.”) But if they can excuse Cheney’s firm support for his daughter Mary and her longtime partner, they’ll certainly forgive the more genial Schwarzenegger.
A friend of Cheney’s told the New York Times that when one Christian supporter advised Cheney to “urge [Mary] away from her aberration,” Cheney gave him “a look that would sizzle your underwear.” It’s hard to imagine Schwarzenegger doing anything other than relieving the tension with a joke.
That, in essence, is Schwarzenegger’s appeal: Dick Cheney without the baggage. When Cheney drops an expletive on Senator Patrick Leahy, it’s considered uncouth. When Schwarzenegger does the same to a lady robot, it’s box-office gold.