The Los Angeles Times
SACRAMENTO — Since Arnold Schwarzenegger left behind a world of fantasy to enter politics, much of what he has encountered has been nothing short of “fantastic.” Just ask him. On the campaign trail, he promised every Californian a “fantastic job.”Ã‚Â Ã‚Â
In his State of the State speech, he urged people around the world to come to California and “buy our fantastic products.” At his first news conference after his election, he introduced his wife, Maria Shriver, as his “fantastic partner.” He has even called the predecessor he drove from office, Gov. Gray Davis, “fantastic.”
The word is as much a part of Schwarzenegger’s daily life as his morning workout. In a speech Tuesday, the governor declared his corrections secretary, Roderick Hickman, and the entire staff of the Department of Motor Vehicles “fantastic.”
And then he called a judge’s ruling “fantastic,” even though the ruling found that he had violated campaign finance laws and would force him to pay $4.5 million out of his own pocket.
“It’s his favorite word,” said Rob Stutzman, his communications director. “It’s optimistic. It’s very positive. It’s the word that characterizes his attitude toward things.”
Others see the word as a way to put a positive spin on whatever comes his way. “It’s very savvy spin, because it is meant to take the air out of any criticism. If he’s happy, why should anyone else pout?” said Martin Kaplan, director of USC‘s Norman Lear Center, which studies the intersection of entertainment and politics.
“It goes under the category of political jujitsu. Nothing is more disarming than an admission. If your political opponents are attacking or if the judge says you broke the law, you treat it as something that helps you.”
Schwarzenegger’s use of the word goes way back. “Fantastic” has been a constant in each of his three careers. As a young bodybuilder, still struggling with English in his first interviews, he declared Americans, long workouts at the gym and California weather all to be “fantastic.”
In the 1977 bodybuilding docudrama “Pumping Iron,” which made him a household name, Schwarzenegger famously compared pumping up his muscles with having sex and added: “It’s fantastic!”
In Hollywood, he employed the term to promote his movies, but it didn’t stand out amid the Hollywood hype. It is in Sacramento where the habit has drawn the most notice.
The governor’s own political aides, some of whom have received personal notes from the governor praising their “fantastic” work, say their boss is simply one of the most relentlessly optimistic figures in American public life.
Kaplan, the Norman Lear Center director, said such language is standard in the circles in which Schwarzenegger moves. “There is competition in Hollywood for positive adjectives,” said the one-time White House speechwriter who also has produced movies and written screenplays. “When people ask each other ‘How are you?’ ‘fine’ is considered an inadequate answer. ‘Excellent’ or ‘superb’ is better. Declaring how fantastic you are feeling is another way of showing you’re fantastic.”
Schwarzenegger’s campaign gave an early clue to the rhetoric to come. He called after-school programs, the state’s economic situation before Gov. Davis took over, and surfboard sales at a Huntington Beach shop “fantastic.” In his stump speech, he argued that his political ambitions were selfless by asking rhetorically: “Arnold, you have this fantastic life, money, career, everything. Why would you do this, when they want to tear you down in politics?”
His favorite word also has been picked up by his political opponents. Ever since he promised “to make sure everyone in California has a fantastic job,” picketers have carried signs outside some of his events asking, “Where is my fantastic job?”
Jamie Court, a consumer advocate who runs the website http://www.arnoldwatch.org , said: “It’s almost as though this governor has convinced himself that it’s always better to be positive and never admit there’s a problem.”
Such criticism has not stopped the Schwarzeneggerian torrent of “fantastic” flourishes. Even when he is asked what it’s like to be governor at a time of financial crisis, Schwarzenegger’s answer is the same: “I have had a fantastic time.”