Politics & Policy

Ah-Nold!

What the average American voter heard on Tuesday night.

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s speech on Tuesday night was a political home-run. Period.

#ad#This assessment is not based on the reactions of the talking heads or newspapers. It is based solely on my experience sitting in focus-group rooms night after night and listening to how normal Americans in places such as Milwaukee, Charlotte (I was conducting non-political groups there Tuesday night), Memphis, Dayton, and St. Louis think and talk about their lives, the products they buy, and the way they vote.

Here’s why Arnold’s speech was a home-run.

The average American voter I hear in these focus groups likes Arnold. The average American voter has, on a Friday night, paid to see Arnold kill make-believe bad guys (make-believe terrorist bad guys on some occasions), and the average American voter felt he got his money’s worth from these movies.

The average American voter likes Arnold because he kicks a** (True Lies) and has a gentle side that cares about children (Kindergarten Cop).

People may not like to hear this, but the fusion of these two movies may be the best pop-culture definition yet of post 9/11 “Compassionate Conservatism”–Arnold’s characters in True Lies and Kindergarten Cop.

And, on that note, True Lies–a movie about an Islamic terror cell’s attempt to detonate a nuclear device on American soil–may be the best and most accessible pop-culture definition of neoconservatism’s tough approach to terrorism. Some may recall that in this movie Arnold explains to the woman playing his wife that yes, as a super-secret, anti-terrorism agent, he has killed many people, but “they were all bad.”

The average American voter knows that Arnold was not born here, but loves our country with the kind of fierce pride reserved for immigrants, veterans, and southerners.

The average American voter is inspired by Arnold’s story. These Americans know he earned everything he got, and they like that about him. He’s a winner, and he started with nothing. Kind of like America.

And what did the average American voter learn on Tuesday night from Arnold?

He probably learned that (a) Arnold is positively bullish on America and the American experiment, (b) Arnold believes we can and will win the war on terror, (c) Arnold is a Republican, and (d) Arnold supports George W. Bush.

These last two are most important in the short term, because Arnold provided unaffiliated voters an access point to the Republican party and the Bush campaign. He defined the party and the president in optimistic, can-do terms. He gave these voters, who rarely think in ideological terms, a reason to be Republicans and a reason to support the president.

This speech may not have been an important moment for the mainstream press or the liberal elite, but I guarantee that there are voters in flyover country who are now more receptive to a second Bush term than they were before Arnold’s speech.

As some may recall, there was a time when the rough-and-tumble country icon Johnny Cash sang Gospel tunes in Billy Graham crusades. They were an unlikely pair. But Cash wanted to sing Gospel, and Graham wanted to talk to Cash’s fans.

Robert Moran is a vice president at Republican polling firm Fabrizio, McLaughlin & Associates. He is an NRO contributor.

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