WASHINGTON — The nexus between show business and politics took a leap forward with Ronald Reagan. Asked by biographer Lou Cannon what had been his greatest movie role, Mr. Reagan responded, "President. That was the role of a lifetime."
Now the link between real life and celluloid life moves a step further with California Gov.-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger, who inaugurated his campaign on the The Tonight Show and ended it on Entertainment Tonight.
Announcing his candidacy on TV, even while an aide was preparing to hand out a news release announcing his decision not to run, was what the French call a coup de théâtre, a theatrical masterstroke. At one of the final rallies before the election, Mr. Schwarzenegger had a wrecking ball dropped on an old car. "That," he said, "was to show you exactly what we're going to do with the car tax." Nothing like a good visual to make your point.
What will it be like being governor? Schwarzenegger said he'd explained to one of his four children concerned about not seeing much of their father, "It's like being on a movie location ... sometimes I'm home and sometimes I'm not home." All right, as long as he understands the difference between acting and governing, between the statehouse and a movie set.
So far, he has talked of California's crushing debt as something that can be fixed without a tax increase by just digging through the books and finding where the waste is. John Burton, the Democratic president pro tem of the state senate, says he'll try to educate the governor-elect about some harsh realities.
"He'll learn that this isn't make-believe," Mr. Burton says. "They're firing real bullets."
Schwarzenegger, who took Burton's call while on his exercise bicycle, said he promised to see Burton, one of the most senior Democrats, as often as possible.
One way the new governor plans to ease California's debt burden is to capitalize on his relationship with President Bush, "working with him and asking him for a lot, a lot of favors." If Schwarzenegger expects an abundance of aid from a federal government itself up to its armpits in debt, I suspect that soon he'll get a dose of noncinematic reality to rouse him from dreams of iron-pumping power.
• Daniel Schorr is a senior news analyst at National Public Radio.