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Hollywood's Rob Reiner faults voters, reporters for not paying attention

– Actor-activist Rob Reiner told University of California, Berkeley, students that voters failed to exercise "due diligence" in the 2000 election of George W. Bush as president or in the 2003 recall election that named Arnold Schwarzenegger California's next governor.

"Think about how we choose leaders and how important that is," Reiner advised the several hundred students in the political science course taught by lecturer Alan Ross. Students occasionally cheered and clapped during Reiner's presentation, lining up outside the Valley Life Sciences lecture hall to get his autograph afterward.

Reiner is a well-known actor, producer and director of such films as "The American President," "A Few Good Men," "When Harry Met Sally," "Ghosts of Mississippi," and the cult classic "This is Spinal Tap." He also is the chair of the California Children & Families Commission, a group that resulted from his successful 1998 initiative to use a 50-cent tax on a pack of cigarettes to finance early childhood education and school readiness programs. Reiner has been mentioned as a possible future gubernatorial candidate.

On his October 22 visit to Berkeley, he chastised voters in the Golden State for electing Schwarzenegger despite the actor-turned-politician's failure to offer any specifics about what he plans to do once he takes office in Sacramento.

"The only reason he's the governor [is] we liked him better than Gray Davis," Reiner said, calling it "scary and dangerous" that Schwarzenegger was elected with voters knowing little about him beyond his acting and muscle-building careers. "He never gave one sentence about how he's going to fix anything," other than that he plans to "open the books," Reiner complained.

Docile reporters who failed to ask hard questions are partially to blame, he said, as are Schwarzenegger's adept campaign handlers, who kept the media from in-depth questioning of their candidate.

Reiner lamented that voters had similarly supported Bush in the 2000 presidential election in large measure because he seemed quite likeable, not because of any hard information about his presidential agenda and despite his lack of familiarity with the world outside North America.

"The problem we have right now in Washington is we don't have the face of a leader," Reiner said.

However, Reiner - who said he is a friend of Schwarzenegger - also added that the governor-elect has an "intellectual curiosity" that President Bush lacks, and Schwarzenegger is a self-made man while Bush grew up in a family of privilege. Schwarzenegger's outsider status makes him "uniquely positioned" to break from traditional political ties in the pursuit of solutions to California's difficulties. He said the governor-elect made a wise decision not to sign a "no new taxes pledge," because "there's just no way" the state can continue without that happening.

Asked if he might run for governor in 2006, Reiner answered that he had considered doing so before the recall, when it appeared that the governor's office would be an open seat and the election missing an incumbent. Now, he says he feels that "we have to give [Schwarzenegger] a chance see how he does in the next year or so.It's still open."