Silence on Schwarzenegger sexcapades says a lot

October 10, 2003|By Steve Chapman

CHICAGO - The California recall campaign was a noisy, raucous and often vitriolic affair. But the most striking feature of the final days was the silence. That was what you heard from conservatives on the subject of Arnold Schwarzenegger's sexual escapades.

Here was a guy who, voters learned, told a skin magazine in 1977 that he had a stripper girlfriend, hung out with prostitutes and engaged in group sex. Then last week, the Los Angeles Times reported that six women said he had forced himself on them, grabbing breasts and bottoms and trying to pull off clothing.

The charges clearly had at least some truth. Mr. Schwarzenegger didn't admit anything specific, but he didn't exactly proclaim his innocence, either. "Wherever there is smoke, there is fire," he said. "I have behaved badly sometimes." Other women came forward with similar accounts.

When Mr. Schwarzenegger insisted that "a lot of these are made-up stories," NBC anchor Tom Brokaw asked him, "So you deny all these stories about grabbing?" Replied Arnold: "No, not all." But he declined to tell which ones were true. Asked by Mr. Brokaw to be more specific about his actions, he replied, "As soon as the campaign is over, I will." What's your hurry, Tom?

At best, the evidence indicates that Mr. Schwarzenegger has a habit of sexual battery - defined in the California Penal Code as touching "an intimate part of another person, if the touching is against the will of the person touched, and is for the specific purpose of sexual arousal, sexual gratification, or sexual abuse."

This goes beyond the behavior that unleashed a scandal on Bill Clinton. His encounter with Monica Lewinsky was consensual, and his crude alleged proposition to Paula Jones stopped short of using force. Kathleen Willey said he forcibly kissed and fondled her, though he relented when she rebuffed him. (It was not until after he was acquitted in his impeachment trial that another woman went public claiming he had raped her, and that was never proved.)

Mr. Clinton's adulterous conduct was enough to outrage conservative moralists. Columnist and former Reagan administration official Linda Chavez said that the actions described by Paula Jones didn't amount to sexual harassment but were "gross and disgusting, and, I think, make Clinton unfit to be president." The Wall Street Journal's shocked editorial writers asked, "What manner of man is it who takes sexual advantage of 21-year-old interns?"

David Frum, writing in the conservative Weekly Standard, asserted that "what's at stake in the Lewinsky scandal" is "the central dogma of the baby boomers: the belief that sex, so long as it's consensual, ought never to be subject to moral scrutiny at all." William J. Bennett, author of several books celebrating old-fashioned values, said Mr. Clinton "acted sexually more like an alley cat than an adult."

Maybe the defenders of virtue exhausted themselves so thoroughly attacking Mr. Clinton that they have no energy left to find fault with Mr. Schwarzenegger. In any event, I have yet to hear a peep of disgust from the major moralists of the right.

The Wall Street Journal admitted in passing that Mr. Schwarzenegger's alleged behavior was "crude and insulting" - which sounds like a great understatement - while crowing that "his candor will strike voters as a welcome contrast to the usual political stonewalling or denials." But his "candor" was of the sort that is now universally known by the term "Clintonesque" - making a vague admission to defuse the issue while denying anything truly incriminating.

Mr. Frum, in his regular column for National Review Online, didn't denounce baby boomer morality, but simply ignored the whole unpleasant business. Mr. Bennett, the go-to guy on matters of morality, was missing in action. The cat got Ms. Chavez's tongue.

So consider their double standard. When Mr. Clinton submitted to oral sex with Ms. Lewinsky, conservatives thought it was morally repugnant. They also thought it disqualified him from remaining in office. As a Wall Street Journal editorial declared, "A business executive or college president caught having sex with an intern less than half his age would today be quickly dismissed."

Yet they're happy to have as governor of California someone who, by his own admission, has forced himself on unwilling women. Their new darling is a more aggressive sexual predator than the president they tried to remove from office. Morality? Law? They'll leave it to liberals to fret about such irrelevancies.

But if the charges persist and multiply, I predict conservatives will find a way to address Mr. Schwarzenegger's behavior: They'll blame it on Mr. Clinton.

Steve Chapman is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune, a Tribune Publishing newspaper, and appears Tuesdays and Fridays in The Sun.

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