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Jewish World Review Oct. 7, 2003 / 11 Tishrei, 5764

Roger Simon

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Arnold gets a pass | LOS ANGELES — It was in the fall of 1994 that I sat in a courtroom in this city and watched a jury being selected for the O.J. Simpson criminal trial.

As each prospective juror sat in the jury box and answered questions, Simpson grinned at them. He did not, as some defendants do, avoid making eye-contact. Instead, he beamed at each prospective juror and smiled. And most beamed and smiled back.

Simpson was a big, big celebrity and some seemed tickled pink to be in the same room with him.

It was at the end of that first day that I told friends and colleagues that Simpson would go free.

"That's ridiculous," one friend said. "You haven't heard a day of testimony. They haven't even selected the jury yet."

I said it didn't matter. Simpson was a master at getting people to like him. And, at its most basic, that is what a jury trial is all about.

Arnold Schwarzenegger is also a big, big celebrity. He is not on trial for anything. On the contrary, if you believe the most recent polls, he is about to become the next governor of California.

If he does win on Tuesday, he can credit one thing: His ability to get people to like him. Which, at its most basic, is what politics is all about.

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As I write this, no fewer than 15 women have come forward to say Schwarzenegger grabbed or groped them against their will, with the four latest saying he fondled, spanked or touched them.

The Los Angeles Times, which broke the story, recounted their accusations in chilling detail.

As of Sunday, 1,000 readers of the Los Angeles Times had cancelled their subscriptions to protest the printing of the accusations against Schwarzenegger and about 400 people had called to criticize the paper.

Schwarzenegger has denied some of the incidents, but has admitted others saying "where there is smoke, there is fire" and apologizing to any women that he might have "offended."

There may have been a time in American life when admitting to assaulting women would have disqualified a person from public office. But that time has passed.

(While Bill Clinton was finally forced to admit to having had sexual relations with women other than his wife, he denies having forced himself on anyone.)

While the polls in California have narrowed since the accusations surfaced, there has been a surprising lack of public outcry against Schwarzenegger. In one poll, Schwarzenegger leads among women and the media have reported that in some crowds there are women holding signs saying, "Arnold, grope me!"

"Because he is Hollywood, he gets a certain kind of pass," Arnold Steinberg, a Republican strategist, told the New York Times. "There is a different way of judging people. He and his campaign have been able to do a tremendous job in surmounting attacks on his character and inconsistencies."

It is not just that he is a celebrity. Schwarzenegger is a sexy celebrity. And that is part of the pass he gets.

So the current governor, Gray Davis, who is neither a celebrity nor sexy, can make all the accusations he wants. He says that the allegations of groping by Schwarzenegger ''raise serious questions about whether he can govern California. Californians should be left with one question: Are all these women and their families lying, or is Mr. Schwarzenegger telling the truth?''

But that is not the question that Californians seem to be left with. The questions seems to be, "Who cares? The guy is a star and stars live by different rules."

As Schwarzenegger's spokesman, Sean Walsh, said: "Arnold has stated, when he began his campaign, that he did not live his life under the expectation that he would someday be governor."

But that — 15 groping, grabbing, fondling, spanking allegations later — is exactly the expectation he has today.

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