LOS ANGELES, Oct 27 (AFP) Oct 27, 2007
Whether inspecting the destruction, rallying weary firefighters or consoling people whose homes went up in flames, Arnold Schwarzenegger's action-man leadership style has come to the fore during California's wildfire crisis.
The Hollywood-actor-turned "Governator" has received praise from across the political spectrum for the way he has dealt with the biggest test of his four-year spell as leader of the of the richest state in America.
Despite the vast differences between the the two catastrophes, many have been unable to resist comparing Schwarzenegger's handling of the fire crisis to the way that officials in New Orleans dealt with Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
"It makes a significant difference when you have somebody in the statehouse willing to take the lead," President George W. Bush said after accompanying Schwarzenegger on a tour of the worst-hit areas on Thursday.
Orange County fire chief Chip Prather meanwhile praised Schwarzenegger for his "personal attention" saying firefighters would be inspired by "knowing the guy at the top is there with them."
Even California's Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer, a possible future rival if Schwarzenegger decides to run for the US Senate after completing his term as governor in 2011, was reported to have praised his performance, according to Time magazine.
Relief centers crackled with excitement this week whenever Schwarzenegger visited, with evacuees at San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium posing alongside him for photographs as the governor checked to see if every need -- blankets, cots, water -- was being catered for.
At a news conference on Wednesday, Schwarzenegger said he believed it was important "to see firsthand of what's going on, see the fires, see the aftermath, and see the burned-out places, see some of the places where people have to stay overnight."
In some cases, Schwarzenegger had personally requested relief supplies, according to reports.
"That's what action is all about," Schwarzenegger said. "This is what you do where there is a case of an emergency. We all have to work together and I'm a hands-on guy that goes around and does those things."
Sherry Bebitch-Jeffe, a professor of political science at the University of Southern California, said Schwarzenegger's sure-footed leadership through the fire crisis had shown voters the substance beneath his celebrity aura.
"I have really watched him and he has performed very well," Bebitch-Jeffe told AFP. "I don't think he will ever lose his celebrity aura, but the portrait has been filled out a little more because of what he has done this week.
"He has been a leader."
Bebitch-Jeffe said crisis-management suited Schwarzenegger's preferred modus operandi, allowing him freedom from bureaucracy.
"The bottom line is he's an action hero," she said.
"That's not to take away from what he has done, but I think the fact that he feels comfortable doing what he is doing -- being an action hero -- resonates with people."
Rob Stutzman, Schwarzenegger's former director of communications, said that a life spent in the public eye, whether as a body-building Mr Universe or Hollywood action star, had prepared the Austrian-born icon for his latest role.
"It's real-life drama," Stutzman told the Los Angeles Times.
"There's a difference between what's pretend and what's real, but all of the performing and the body-building and the movies prepared him to feel very comfortable performing in real-life dramas."All rights reserved. © 2005 Agence France-Presse. Sections of the information displayed on this page (dispatches, photographs, logos) are protected by intellectual property rights owned by Agence France-Presse. As a consequence, you may not copy, reproduce, modify, transmit, publish, display or in any way commercially exploit any of the content of this section without the prior written consent of Agence France-Presse.