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January 28, 2014
Viewpoints: Movie star to governor to ... beer ads? Schwarzenegger goes beyond shame

Schwarzenegger.JPG(Jan. 28 - By William Endicott, Special to The Bee)

So many of them live amongst us that you might think Californians would be immune to the gravitational pull of movie stars and sports celebrities when it comes to electing them to public office.

Let the rest of the country salivate over famous faces. We're way too sophisticated for that.

Yet what other state has elected two actors as governor, one of whom went on to become president, and now must suffer through the embarrassment of the other, who has gone on to become a pitchman for Anheuser-Busch?

In two of the more mystifying and silly TV ads ever aired during a major sporting event, former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger showed up during the San Francisco 49ers-Seattle Seahawks football playoff in a pair of Bud Light teaser ads, a prelude to an upcoming Super Bowl spot. He could not have looked more ridiculous, decked out in a shoulder-length blond wig, black and white athletic gear and a matching elastic headband, pretending to swat at an imaginary pingpong ball. "Surprise," he says in one of the ads.

Surprise is right. One can only imagine viewers the country over saying to themselves, "This is the guy who was governor of California? What kind of wacko state are they running out there?"

A lot of states have gone for the famous when choosing whom they want to represent them. Basketball star Bill Bradley was a U.S. senator from New Jersey; Hall of Fame baseball pitcher Jim Bunning a senator from Kentucky; football star Jack Kemp a New York congressman and a Republican vice presidential candidate. The list goes on.

But the only election I can think of that comes close to resembling California's choice of Schwarzenegger as governor occurred in Minnesota in 1998 when residents put professional wrestler Jesse Ventura in their governor's office. The joke was on Minnesota.

Schwarzenegger had little or nothing to recommend him when he ran as the alternative to Democratic incumbent Gray Davis in the Davis recall election of 2003, except that he brought out a ton of young, first-time male voters who couldn't wait to vote for "the Terminator."

He won re-election in 2006 and over time established his bona fides for shameless behavior and not much else. Now he appears to be back in his natural habitat, making bad movies and selling his name to the highest bidder.

The New York Post reported that his paycheck for the Bud Light spots is $3 million. Anheuser-Busch is not talking about how much it forked over but promises more Schwarzenegger during the Super Bowl matchup between the Seahawks and the Denver Broncos.

Just how our former governor will appear on Super Bowl Sunday, the beer company is not saying. A spokesman indicated at least one spot will feature Schwarzenegger, one of his Hollywood sidekicks, a rock band and a llama.

It will be, the spokesman said, "an unforgettable adventure."

We can hardly wait.

Schwarzenegger, of course, is not the first ex-politician to exploit his fame to make commercials.

Bill Miller, Republican Barry Goldwater's running mate in the 1964 presidential election, later did a TV ad for American Express. Former GOP presidential candidate Bob Dole signed on with a drug firm that makes Viagra. Former U.S. senator and actor Fred Thompson does ads for a reverse mortgage company.

Even the sainted Ronald Reagan was a pitchman for Borax and General Electric, but that was when he was still an actor and before he ran for and was elected to public office.

The difference between all of them and Schwarzenegger is that while taking on their jobs as peddlers of products and services, they still managed to keep their dignity somewhat intact.

Watching the Bud Light ads with Schwarzenegger as an aging Bjorn Borg look-alike can only lead to the conclusion that Schwarzenegger and the dignity befitting a former governor are perfect strangers.

William Endicott is a former deputy managing editor of The Sacramento Bee.