California Schemin': A Tip Sheet On The Latest Maladies

Channel-surfing the other night-while reading a magazine, eating dinner, answering a phone call, bouncing a 3-year-old boy in my lap and musing about whether Hillary is going to run for President in 2004-I was brought up short by a TV commercial from the Eli Lilly drug company about the perils of Adult Attention-Deficit Disorder.

Watching the poor, wretched, über -mother/careerist depicted in this spot-she’s unable to concentrate in meetings or (cliché alert!) enjoy her kids, beset as she is by the kind of flashing, disjointed images that have earned the film director Michael Bay billions at the box office-my first thought was sheer admiration for the American drug industry: What used to be touted as multi-tasking is now classified as a life-sapping affliction with an F.D.A.-approved drug treatment. And my next impulse, of course, was to drop everything (except for the kid) and take the screening test.

Alas, to my thinking, the six questions posed on the Web site were far too amorphous to be really useful, ranging from (I’m paraphrasing here) “Do you have difficulty organizing?” to “Are you often fidgety, distracted, or have trouble waiting?”

Oh, please. It’s one thing that the Web site doesn’t mention the drug they’re pushing here. It’s called Strattera, and you have to go to a corporate Eli Lilly Web page to learn that it’s enjoyed the “strongest launch ever” for this kind of drug, with over a million prescriptions written in the first six months. But my larger question concerns the validity of this Web-based do-it-yourself medical test. I mean, I hate to be a spoilsport here, but if you really had AADD, would you actually have the wherewithal to answer all six of those deeply probing questions?

Thus, in the interest of promoting both medical science and general all-around mental health, I’ve reduced this test to two brief, simple queries:

1) Are you a New Yorker? 2) Are you in the media business?

On second thought, I just realized I can make the quiz even shorter:

1) Do you know who Bonnie Fuller is? If so, contact your physician. Your friends, family and the shareholders of Eli Lilly will thank you.

Your diarist is filing this dispatch from California, where the entire state seems to be in the grip of a new-age malady: Not Attention-Deficit Disorder, or Budget-Deficit Disorder, or even Leadership-Deficit Disorder. Rather, it’s a full-blown Republican-financed temper tantrum that’s scheduled to peak on Oct. 7, with a special election to recall the Democratic governor, Gray Davis.

So what do we, as attention-challenged New Yorkers-facing a grueling cocktail-party circuit in August, where an opinion will be required-need to know about this?

1) The Overview : Forget about Arnold, forget about Darrell Issa (the multimillionaire Republican Congressman who bankrolled the recall, whose previous most notable contribution to the public discourse was the car alarm that goes “Beep-beep-beep, please step away from the car”), forget about the whys and wherefores of the recall.

The single most important thing to focus on is that ballot itself. Why? On Oct. 7, voters are going to be faced with two questions: First, whether to recall Mr. Davis. And second, if you vote yes on the first question, who should replace him.

For months, California Democrats have presented a unified front, declaring that no one from the party would enter the race to replace Mr. Davis. But, as they say in the movie business, Things Change. Yes, the recall is inherently wrong. There’s no blue Gap dress, no smoking gun, no break-in at the opposing party’s headquarters. But with Mr. Davis’ 23 percent approval rate and his seeming inability to communicate exactly why he should be retained in office-other than claiming he’s going to fight like “a Bengal tiger” and trotting out the boilerplate “It’s a vast right-wing conspiracy”-there’s an emerging sense among Democrats that no matter what, Mr. Davis is finished. And to not enter a viable Democrat on the ever-lengthening list of candidates in that second ballot question (296, at this writing,) would be political suicide, tantamount to handing over the state to the Republican Party.

2) Enter the Dark Horse . During the first days of August, leading Democrats, including Maxine Waters and Barbara Boxer, began to break with Mr. Davis. Their dream replacement is Senator Dianne Feinstein, who has left herself just enough wiggle room to enter the race. But can she win? Again, we go back to that ballot: According to the election rules, if you vote to keep Mr. Davis in office (meaning against the recall), you’re prohibited from also voting for a candidate to replace him, “just in case.” (Yes, it’s difficult to follow. So just think of it as the California sequel to Florida 2000: It’s bigger, it’s louder, it’s more confusing.) Getting back to Ms. Feinstein, the Democratic Party thinking is that with some 77 percent of the voters in a predominantly Democratic state likely to vote against Mr. Davis (and thus being eligible to vote for his replacement), Ms. Feinstein should have no trouble out-polling a field of vote-splitting Republicans. The difficult part will be getting her to commit without looking like an opportunist. Watch out for the key words “heavy heart,” “great reluctance,” “my party needs me.”

3) Whither Arnold? On Wednesday, Aug. 6, Arnold Schwarzenegger is scheduled to announce his decision on the race just before appearing on the Jay Leno show. It’s a move already being derided out here as “way too Hollywood,” leading one of my more cynical friends in California politics to surmise that a) he’s not going to run, and b) he’s going to use this opportunity to increase the audience for the Leno show, in hopes of pushing up the box office at his underperforming Terminator 3 . (My response to this? Welcome to the grassy-knoll section of California politics.) For me, the key to understanding Arnold is that he considers himself not just an actor, but a businessman. He reads the script, but he also wants to know the marketing budget. He plays to win.

According to someone close to the Schwarzenegger camp, the main sticking point here hasn’t been about family or the possibility of scandals erupting. It’s about money. Unlike Mayor Bloomberg, or New Jersey’s Jon Corzine, Arnold supposedly wasn’t willing to self-finance his campaign, putting up the tens of millions necessary for everything from posters to phone banks to advance teams and TV advertising. (Movie stars, as a general rule, never pay for anything.) And where a short campaign might have helped Arnold in terms of substance, it works against him on fund-raising. Look for a compromise here: On Wednesday night, Arnold throws his support to the former mayor of Los Angeles, millionaire Richard Riordan; in turn, the 72-year-old moderate pro-choice Republican announces that he only intends to serve out Gray Davis’ term; and Arnold ends his pre-Leno press conference with the words, “I’ll be back.”

4) The Prediction: If Dianne Feinstein is drafted into the race, she wins by a hair. If not, the Democrats pour all their effort, support and money into defeating the recall-and on Oct. 8, elected largely by moderate Democrats, Republican Richard Riordan wakes up as the next governor of California.

5) One Last Thing: Before you ask, the answer is no. Trends may begin in California, but at the moment, there’s no petition circulating among voters out here demanding the recall of the movie Gigli . But hope-and Audience-Deficit Disorder-springs eternal.