Note to Arnold: If You Win the Governorship, Watch Terminator II Again

It's impossible for a satirist to improve upon the farcical situation facing voters in California.

The upcoming recall election features some 135 candidates, arranged in a random order by bingo-hoppers across the state, which include a porn “star,” an Austrian weightlifter best known for playing an animatronic murderous robot and the even less life-like sitting governor, Gray Davis.

As a fiction writer, I would never have the nerve to make such stuff up. It's all too implausible, even for the great state that gave us Jerry Brown, Haight-Ashbury and EST. (To readers under 30 who might suspect that these are names of Scottish novelists or cable TV stations: Do a Google search on each for hours of guilt-free laughter.)

This landmark of American democracy in action makes Gov. Jesse Ventura and the hanging chads of Florida seem like chapters from a civics textbook. Reading The New York Times these days you'd think it had merged with the online sarcasm site The Onion.

So I'll dispense with the cheap shots and get to the point.

As much as it might all seem like a Mardi Gras parade, there are some deadly serious issues at stake in the California race. At the moment, it seems all too likely that, by sheer force of name recognition, Arnold Schwarznegger might receive his very first position in government as the head of America's largest, most populist and once-richest state.

He'll do his on-the-job training holding the welfare of tens of millions in his bone-crushing hands. I know that at least one actor made the same leap, with enormous success: the beloved Ronald Reagan. Of course, Reagan had long been active in politics, campaigning for Barry Goldwater, and before that leading the successful purge of communists from the Screen Actors Guild. That means we shouldn't beat Arnold to death with his resumé.

Still, it bears consideration that Mr. Schwarzenegger, to anyone's knowledge, has never managed anything more complicated than a motorcycle.

I'm much more concerned about the incipient front-runner's views. As Christian leaders across California are desperate to remind Republican voters, Schwarzenegger has publicly and plainly endorsed abortion on demand and the legalization of homosexual “marriage.”

These two issues alone should ban him as a biohazard — too toxic to touch. We have unambiguous statements from the Vatican that make clear it is sinful to support such a candidate, particularly when there are reasonable alternatives. To name one, there's the successful businessman and Catholic philanthropist William Simon Jr., who came achingly close to defeating Davis in the most recent ordinary election.

There are others, and you can read about them online, for example, at

This isn't a case of choosing the lesser of two evils — and that's perhaps the one positive aspect of this electoral pandemonium: The structure of the recall election prevents the two parties from offering voters a choice between pro-abortion Tweedledee and Tweedledum.

If pro-life, pro-normal-marriage voters united behind a single candidate, he might very well win with only 25-30% of the vote. It's unlikely he could do much to restrict abortion in California, whose legislature legalized the procedure years before Roe v. Wade snatched it from voters’ reach. But he could provide leadership, thunder from his bully pulpit or nibble away at public funding for destruction of the unborn. Small steps — little things — but real ones. The road to heaven is paved with them.

More importantly, the defeat of a socially libertine Republican would prevent the powerful pro-abortion faction in that party from growing still more influential.

The governors of major states have a powerful say in writing party platforms, boosting or crushing the hopes of pro-life and pro-family congressmen, and dishing out cash from the party war chest. It's a major blow to the pro-life cause that Republican George Pataki is the governor of New York; the only consolation is that in presidential elections Re publicans have largely written off the place.

But Karl Rove and George Bush (perhaps fantastically) hope to carry California in 2004. When its newly elected governor speaks, they will feel pressure to listen. Think what it would mean to have two parties from which to choose — one that is officially, wildly pro-abortion and pro-homosexual “marriage” and another that is neutral or lukewarm on the issues. Would we bother to vote?

It's also telling that Mr. Schwarnegger has chosen as campaign manager former Gov. Pete Wilson, who for all his virtues as a competent head of that state was a leader in trying to neutralize pro-life voices in his party. And things get uglier: Schwarzenegger has designated as his chief economic adviser Warren Buffett Jr. — a man who when he isn't enriching his fortunate investors busies himself pouring untold millions into Planned Parenthood and even worse organizations that promote forced sterilization throughout the developing world.

If I could get Mr. Schwarzenegger alone for a few minutes, I would remind him of a scene from his wonderful film Terminator II, which I saw in the theater nine times. For all its onscreen violence — don't bring the kids — the movie enfolds throughout its story a real reverence for human life, even a sense of its sanctity.

One scene I cannot forget pits the young John Connor (Edward Furlong) in an argument against the Terminator (Schwarzenegger), who came from the future to save Connor and the human race. Up to then, the Terminator had been remorselessly mowing down anyone who got in his way — like a good utilitarian. Appalled at the carnage, Connor pulls the cyborg aside and argues with him: “You just can't go around killing people!”

The Terminator is confused. “Why not?”

“You just can't.” “But I'm a Terminator.” “You're going to have to trust me on this. You just can't.”

At some point, argument breaks down. You can't prove to someone that human life is sacred; especially if he doesn't feel that way about his own. It's a truth that's conveyed a thousand ways, through acts of compassion, empathy and reverence that human decency suggests and Christian faith demands.

After the exchange, the Terminator switches gears and only shoots to wound, using minimal force against police and army units — even in his mission to prevent a nuclear war. In other words, he fights according to just-war principles. This fact alone makes the film worth watching again.

So if I could corner the Terminator, that's what I'd say to him.

“You have to trust me on this. You can't go around killing people. You just can't.”

J.P. Zmirak is author of Wilhelm Röpke: Swiss Localist, Global Economist (www.isibooks. org).