Politics & Policy

Conan Wins

He may have groped, but he's no hypocrite.

Give Arnold Schwarzenegger his due. The other day I caught a factoid on CNN suggesting he was a “Hitler-Loving Serial Groper.” For a Republican of any flavor–including, in this case, California Alpine–to be elected in such a liberal state with that kind of baggage is a serious feat. He wasn’t my candidate and my enthusiasm for his victory is puny (to use a Schwarzeneggerian word) compared to my euphoria at the image of Gray Davis reorganizing his sock drawer for the next couple of years, but he did it and he deserves congratulations. He had to put up with Arianna Huffington, a woman who came to this country in the hopes of becoming Pamela Harriman, but was willing to compromise as the Imelda Marcos of the Gingrich Revolution and, when that didn’t work out, ended up becoming the Leona Helmsley of know-nothing liberalism.

During the debate, for example, she all but begged Schwarzenegger for the swirly he suggested he might give her in Terminator IV. The last time anyone can remember a Greek giving an Austrian such a hard time was probably when Anthony Quinn gave the business to the Nazis in The Guns of Navarone.

I should leave Arianna alone, for to take her seriously is a compliment she doesn’t deserve. Then again, for us to take her at all is a punishment we do not deserve. So, indulge me. In 2000, when Ms. Huffington already claimed to be a liberal, she declared on Jesse Jackson’s (now long-buried–mercifully) Both Sides that Gray Davis was an “unqualified disaster.” In 2002, she told MSNBC’s Buchanan & Press: “Let me just say, as a citizen of California, I’m voting for ‘none of the above.’ And I sincerely hope that many people kind of cast a protest vote because it’s really disgusting that in the greatest democracy on earth, in the biggest state of the union, we can’t do any better than Gray Davis versus Bill Simon.” During the recall campaign she hammered at Davis and declared during the debate that the recall was “an unprecedented, historic opportunity here to elect an independent, progressive governor on a simple plurality. And the state desperately needs that, because the two-party political system is broken and that opportunity will not come again in a hurry.”

In a move that elevated the childish “If-I-can’t-play-no-one-can!” whine to world-historic levels, once it became clear that her smaller-than-the-margin-of-error standing in the polls wasn’t about to turn into a dust swell let alone a groundswell, she dropped out of the race, declared the recall a disaster of metaphysical proportions, and embraced Gray Davis. This picture says it all (but if it doesn’t, there are more).


But we should move on to people who matter, or at least who used to. Which brings us, of course, to Gray “Asterisk” Davis. It’s difficult even to criticize the man now as he is already fading from memory. Other writers have devoted ample space to cataloging the rudderless kleptocracy Davis captained lo these many years. And I should leave it to them to describe the so aptly named man who even now is vanishing from the collective consciousness like an out-of-favor member of the Soviet politburo, airbrushed from the photo by the voters of California.

But Davis did call in some interesting folks to fight by his side. There were the feminist groups who, emerging from a selective amnesia of their own, suddenly remembered that powerful men shouldn’t treat subordinate women the way a blind man treats a Braille phonebook. As Andrew Sullivan has remarked, Maureen Dowd at least got one thing right when she wrote:

Feminism died in 1998 when Hillary allowed henchlings and Democrats to demonize Monica as an unbalanced stalker, and when Gloria Steinem defended Mr. Clinton against Kathleen Willey and Paula Jones by saying he had merely made clumsy passes, then accepted rejection, so there was no sexual harassment involved. As to his dallying with an emotionally immature 21-year-old, Ms. Steinem noted, “Welcome sexual behavior is about as relevant to sexual harassment as borrowing a car is to stealing one.” Surely what’s good for the Comeback Kid is good for the Terminator.


Nevertheless, it was hilarious to see Bill Clinton go out and stump relentlessly for Gray Davis right up until the moment the groping story broke, and then–suddenly–he departed with nary a Road Runner-esque “Beep, Beep!” But Jesse Jackson stuck it out, supporting Davis at every turn, no one bothering to ask Jackson whether he had the moral authority to criticize Schwarzenegger when he’d fathered a child with a woman on his payroll–a payroll maintained with Gray Davis-like chicanery, I should add–and then used company funds to keep her quiet.

But the hypocrisy of Democrats goes hand-in-hand with the hypocrisy of Republicans who made such a big deal about Bill Clinton but suddenly grew libertine when it came to Arnold Schwarzenegger. Yes, yes, Bill Clinton lied under oath. Yes, yes, Bill Clinton lied while he was in office and was a public servant when he seduced, harassed, and-maybe even worse–one woman or another. But that only deepens the Democrats’ hypocrisy; it does not exonerate the Republicans’. Conservatives didn’t suddenly start saying character matters in 1998 when they heard about Monica Lewinsky. They said it mattered in 1992 when Bill Clinton was running for president and his staff was putting out bimbo eruptions. The fact that the president betrayed the oath he made to the American people in his famous 60 Minutes interview should have been enough for his wife, his party, and his nation to demand his resignation.

Indeed, the only non-hypocrite in this whole thing is Schwarzenegger himself. He never signed laws against sexual harassment, he never presided over a party which insisted, for a decade, that the personal is political and that sexual harassment matters. And he never got on a soapbox condemning adultery or womanizing. (He couldn’t if he wanted ever to get invited to Uncle Ted’s for Thanksgiving.) Arnold was a testosterone-infused movie star. He may have behaved terribly, but was anyone really surprised?

Regardless, Schwarzenegger has been absolved of his past transgressions by democratic diktat. He beat the margin of the recall. He weathered the storm of the L.A. Times fully informing a public which did not want to be fully informed. He pulverized Cruz Bustamante, a Latino Mr. Whipple look-alike with a bizarre ethno-racist irredentist past which held that only the Hispanic La Raza should be allowed to squeeze the Charmin.

I don’t particularly like the idea that candidates should be able to buy indulgences at the ballot box, but that is the political reality, despite whatever legal action Schwarzenegger’s enemies may take. But if he does it again while in office, if he pretends to be putting out fires on women’s blouses, we should all stand clear of the hypocrite-smiting lightning bolts which will surely rain down upon any anti-Clinton Republicans who rush to his defense.

But, looking to the future, I must say that I’m less troubled by Schwarzenegger’s piggishness than I am by his politics. Schwarzenegger would never have become governor had he ran the old-fashioned way, competing in a primary. So in effect, because Governor Schwarzenegger is not a creation of his party, he now has an opportunity to recreate it. Andrew Sullivan, for reasons which still elude me, believes that the other A. S. has the potential to be a “revolutionary” figure in American politics. I see exactly no evidence of this. Rather, I fear that Schwarzenegger will become an echo, not a choice, rendering California’s welfare state a bipartisan enterprise. (One possible indication of things to come: His acceptance speech was delivered against a backdrop of Hollywood figures and various Kennedys.)

But that’s an argument for another day. California has only one governor at a time and this one deserves the benefit of the doubt. And besides, by winning despite the best efforts of feminists (and Huffington too), he managed to make his greatest line–from Conan the Barbarian, obviously–into something of a prophecy. In that film he was asked, “Conan, what is best in life?” He answered: “To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of the women!”

Members of the National Review editorial and operational teams are included under the umbrella “NR Staff.”


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