I’m in favor of extending the California recall as long as possible—even making it become something of a permanent condition. The big rush to try to oust the governor has made this election more a comic book than the novel it ought to be. I’d hate to miss any of the nuances and deeper meaning of the race.
The other day, for instance, the Times ran a front-page story with the headline A MACHO CANDIDATE FOR GOVERNOR AND HIS ACHILLES HEEL: WOMEN. I don’t know anybody who didn’t dive into the story eager to read all about the details of Arnold’s famously lush, promiscuous, and down-and-dirty sex life.
And not just the youthful (well, not so youthful) stuff that’s been surfacing on the Internet, but the dish on the present-day prowling Arnold.
Lots of political operatives and reporters in the know had told me that Arnold, if he ever really decided to run for governor, would get whacked by the dossier of lewdness that the Democrats had on him (which, in fact, the tabloids have been floating for years anyway). And there were even the stories, just before he declared in August (impetuously, perhaps), that in fact he wasn’t going to run because of family issues—because Maria didn’t want to face the inevitable and unavoidable embarrassment of a very public Arnold.
So finally, it appeared, the Times was really going to deliver the goods on this famous letch and unfaithful spouse.
The Times story was not about sex. Or it was, but it was expressed in soft-focus gender terms. Not about who Arnold was boning but about Arnold’s perceived sensitivity failings, his regard-for-women image problems—his particular kind of guyness—resulting in a 13-point deficit against Cruz Bustamante among female voters.
So I have two issues to explore here. The first is the Arnold campaign as another event on the American political-sexual continuum—reflecting both new tolerance (he’s openly a sexual bon vivant but running credibly for governor) and, at the same time, whole new strains of societal mortification and uptightness. The other issue is the unexpected and hard-to-justify fondness I find myself having for Arnold. Even for the possibility of Governor Arnold.
This fondness is a helpless thing. There is surely no reasonable rationale for making Arnold governor—he plainly has no qualifications for what is quite a by-the-numbers, management-intensive job. And even if he had some modicum of experience—say as head of the Screen Actors Guild—I would ordinarily be predisposed against him because he’s a Republican (as well as an actor). What’s more, I agree that recalling a governor who’s just recently been elected is an unfair, mean, and impulsive thing to do.
And yet—Arnold. As horrifying or surreal or absurd a prospect as he originally seemed, more and more he strikes me, in context, anyway, as reasonable. Even understated.
This is partly the contrast-gainer thing. Gray Davis just invites revulsion. Shiftiness and insincerity and deep, inhuman coldness mix here with demonstrable incompetence. (How this reptilian figure got elected in the first place—twice—is altogether another matter.) You can see how it might be physically difficult for Californians to pull the lever for him this one extra time. It takes a certain self-loathing.
And Cruz Bustamante—an even more ridiculous and undeserving likely winner than Gray Davis himself. Cruz Bustamante, who gets to run only because every other Democrat agreed not to, would be the ultimate absurdity of recall. You can’t go down much lower on the hack ladder.
And then there’s the right-wing McClintock. His kind of old-fashioned, Orange County–ish, John Wayne conservatism makes Arnold seem like Nelson Rockefeller.
But, of course, it isn’t just these half-baked rogues that make Arnold, the ultimate rogue, look good. Arnold has his own odd virtues.
Among them, arguably: sex.
In my brief survey, Arnold is the first major-party candidate for high office to have discussed in public the various aspects of group sex. He seems definitely the first to do it with some psychological insight—it surely does take a certain kind of man, as Arnold’s observed, to be able to have sex with an audience.
There’s a naked-ape quality to Arnold (to say the very least).
I have always wondered what would have been different for Bill Clinton if he’d come clean. If he had honestly discussed his drives and appetites and needs with the American people. What a squandered opportunity.
Arnold, even as he issues obligatory denials, is, unlike Bill, neither furtive nor guilty.