The lamentation of Arnold
If it weren't for the sex, politics would barely be worth it.
Or so I am told. The hours are long and tedious, and the payoff is often quite meager. I am talking about the politics, not the sex. I think.
In the two, long sit-down interviews I have had with Arnold Schwarzenegger, both times he pointed out to me that he has never failed at anything he has put his hand to.
"I was able to accomplish everything and way beyond my dreams," he told me when he was running for re-election as governor of California in 2006. "I could not have been the bodybuilding champion 13 times over, the world champion. I couldn't have been in the movie business, the success, if it wouldn't have been in California and I wouldn't have been inspired by all the stars around. So I could do all of those things, including becoming governor, only in California."
And he may have been right. Maybe only in California could the Terminator have become the Governator.
After he won his second term, I interviewed him in the vast Ronald Reagan Cabinet Room in the state capitol in Sacramento and asked him what he would do after he left the governorship in 2010.
"If you serve the people well, your options are open and you can decide at the last minute anything," he told me. "If you want to go back to show business, or just go into business or to run for another office, all those options are available."
And all those options did seem available, even though there had been some bumps on the road. Less than a week before his first election — a special election in which the incumbent governor, the widely despised Gray Davis, had to be recalled before Schwarzenegger could be elected — the Los Angeles Times began printing in chilling detail accusations by women that Schwarzenegger had groped and improperly touched them.
The number of accusers eventually rose to 15, and Schwarzenegger was forced to say: "Yes, I have behaved badly sometimes ... and I have done things that were not right, which I thought then was playful. But I now recognize that I have offended people."
He apologized, but his poll numbers dipped and his campaign staff grew very worried.
Schwarzenegger had powerful friends, however, very powerful friends, who helped minimize the damage. Before the election, Jay Leno said in one of his nightly monologues: "You've got Arnold, who groped a few women, or Davis, who screwed the whole state."
It got a big laugh.
And then there was Oprah. Oprah had both Schwarzenegger and his wife, Maria Shriver, on her show. Nobody played a more important role than Shriver in saving her husband's political career.
On Oprah's show, Shriver told people not to believe the rumors and the stories, even when the stories came out of Schwarzenegger's own mouth. Schwarzenegger could be a crude guy, especially when it came to violence and women. While promoting "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines," he gleefully told Entertainment Weekly: "How many times do you get away with this — to take a woman, grab her upside down and bury her face in a toilet bowl?"
Many would agree getting away with that even once is one time too many, but Schwarzenegger was a movie star and there were different rules for him. I was following him around Fresno during his first campaign one day, when people shouted out to him from the crowd: "What is best in life? What is best in life?"
They wanted him to repeat his famous line from "Conan the Barbarian." And he obliged: "What is best in life? To crush your enemies, see them driven before you and to hear the lamentation of their women!"
The crowd roared.
Shriver told people to ignore all this stuff. "I know the man I'm married to," she told Oprah. "I make up my mind on him, based on him. Not based on what people say."
And when Oprah asked Shriver whether, as a Kennedy woman, she'd been raised to ignore a husband's adultery, Shriver grew irritated. "You know that really ticks me off?" Shriver said. "I am my own woman. I have not been, quote, bred to look the other way."
Which, to her credit, turns out to be true. When her husband was forced to admit his adultery recently, after a story in the Los Angeles Times, Shriver took off her wedding ring, gathered up her children and left him.
I once asked Schwarzenegger about the role that acting played in his political life. "Franklin Roosevelt once told Orson Welles, 'We are the two best actors in the country,'" I told Schwarzenegger. "Are there things you learned from your acting career that you have used in politics?"
Schwarzenegger was eager to answer: "In the close-up on the screen people can read your eyes and your honesty, and the same is in politics. People look at you — many times they forget the words — but they look at you, and they walk away, and they say, 'I believe this guy.'"
It was pure baloney, of course. Schwarzenegger had learned how to act a role on the screen, and it helped him act a role with his wife and the public: that of a faithful husband and father.
It was a lie, and now it has caught up with him. Wednesday, CNN quoted a source as saying that Schwarzenegger was "rambling around" his huge house "with none of his family around" and feeling terrible.
I hope it is true. And I hope that, perhaps, in his private and lonely moments, Schwarzenegger will come to realize that lamentation is something not just for women.
To find out more about Roger Simon, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.
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