Back in October 2003, I witnessed a remarkable spectacle at a San Diego rally for gubernatorial candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger. As I talked to people about allegations that Schwarzenegger had crudely groped women against their will, using his celebrity and power to have his way, they were outraged.
Not at Schwarzenegger, but at the Los Angeles Times, for reporting the stories.
Even after Schwarzenegger stepped to the stage in San Diego and admitted that “where there’s smoke, there’s fire,” GOP women who espoused family values came to Schwarzenegger’s defense. They insisted that either all of Arnold’s accusers were making it up, or that they wanted to be groped. “It doesn’t matter,” one woman told me.
Some accused The Times of delving into ancient history to deliver a knockout punch solely because Schwarzenegger was a Republican. I thought then and I think now that the newspaper had a responsibility to investigate the character of a man who wanted to be governor.
Later that day, at the Orange County fairgrounds, I watched as Schwarzenegger staged a crowd-pleasing stunt. As the teeming crowd roared its approval, he dropped a wrecking ball from the sky, destroying an Oldsmobile to symbolize that he was going to crush the vehicle tax if elected governor.
It was such a good show, nobody noticed the deception. Schwarzenegger didn’t explain how he’d make up the $4 billion in lost revenue, and not long after he took office and slashed the tax, the state’s deficit had grown by $4 billion. What a surprise.
California never climbed out of that hole. In fact, the gap would only deepen as Schwarzenegger failed to deliver on his promise to “tear up the credit card” and instead borrowed huge sums. After vowing to get the money out of Sacramento politics, he set fundraising records.
It didn’t help that the economy crashed while he was in office, but make no mistake: Schwarzenegger was a flop as governor despite fleeting flashes of leadership. Even his once-adoring fans turned on him when they realized they’d been had, driving his poll numbers to embarrassing depths.
In January, as one of his final acts as governor, Schwarzenegger further sullied himself -- in addition to outraging the family of a homicide victim -- by commuting the murder sentence of the son of former Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, a Schwarzenegger friend.
Given this backdrop, I can’t say I was surprised by Tuesday’s news that Schwarzenegger had fathered a child with a longtime member of his household staff. Yeah, the details were sensational, but the whole mess fits the narrative of a man who has always seemed to live in his own celebrity world by his own twisted rules of privilege and entitlement, his life an orgy of self-glory.
“After leaving the governor’s office I told my wife about this event, which occurred over a decade ago,” Schwarzenegger said in a statement.
Is the betrayal of his wife and children in their own home just an “event” to him?
“There are no excuses and I take full responsibility for the hurt I have caused,” Schwarzenegger went on. “I have apologized to Maria, my children and my family, and I am truly sorry.”
Sorry he did it or sorry he got caught? And are there any more surprises out there?
There’s been no allegation that Schwarzenegger’s attentions were unwelcome, but I can’t help but wonder exactly how willing the female employee was in this case. She worked for him, after all. It wasn’t a level playing field. And I can’t help but think about the descriptions of Schwarzenegger groping incidents by women who described them as uncomfortable and unwelcome.
With this tryst, Schwarzenegger risked not just having his own insatiable appetites revealed, but forever destroying the relationship between the employee and Arnold’s own wife and children. And then there’s the child he fathered, who asked for none of this and, one can only hope, will be able to build a life that’s not defined by the parents’ lies.
To make it even more mortifyingly awkward, Schwarzenegger kept this under his hat while his wife, Maria Shriver, gave up her TV reporting job to serve his political ambitions, and she did it with grace, using the title of first lady to advocate for families and women’s empowerment.
No wonder she moved out of the Brentwood house and into a hotel when she found out the husband she defended, amid all the groping allegations, had kept an even bigger secret from her all these years.
It’s beyond fiction, this tale of greed and deceit.
The man with huge biceps (thanks to his admitted use of steroids), huge box office receipts and huge ambitions turns out to be a huge phony, too. How about an apology to the people of California, Arnold?