The shock of election night in California wasn’t Gray Davis’s recall or the election of Arnold Schwarzenegger as governor.

It was hearing commentator after commentator fall all over themselves to say what a great speech the victor gave.

I listened to the speech and, after hearing the commentary, sought it out online to read it, thinking I must have missed something.

Nope. “And today California has given me the greatest gift of all. You’ve given me your trust by voting for me. Thank you very much to all the people of California for giving me their great trust.” That’s boilerplate stuff, only a little better than “(insert grateful remarks here)”.

There isn’t a line in that that couldn’t have been spoken (with a little tweaking for geography or backstory) by practically any winning candidate in history. Nothing memorable, with the possible exception of “For the people to win, politics as usual must lose.”

Even that one line felt like it had been tacked on after one of Schwarzenegger’s army of consultants slapped his head and said, “Oratory! We forgot to include oratory!”

What people were reacting to wasn’t the speech. It was Arnold – the megawatt smile, the unfeigned delight, the genuine enthusiasm of the last un-ironic actor in Hollywood. (Watch a clip of him painfully shoe-horning one of his movie catch-phrases into a political speech over the last three months, and then try convincing yourself the man gets irony.)

The speech itself is indigestably bland – a collection of cliches lightly pasted together with schmaltz. That’s not especially remarkable; playing it safe seems to be the order of the day for front-runners. But coming from a maverick, the Last Action Hero himself, that kind of scripted, focus-tested-to-death performance doesn’t bode well.

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