Jewish World Review Sept. 23, 2003 / 26 Elul, 5763

Jeff Jacoby

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Why Arnold offends them | "Women's groups protest Schwarzenegger," reads the Washington Post headline on a recent story about the California recall campaign. Their disapproval comes as no surprise. If the slew of recently-surfaced quotes and anecdotes involving the Republican candidate's views on sex and women are true — if even half of them are true — the guy has a Neanderthal streak anyone should find offensive.

Start with Schwarzenegger's now-notorious 1977 interview with the sex magazine Oui. That was the one in which he told author Peter Manso how he liked "having chicks around" to provide sexual "relief" on the bodybuilding circuit, and described the time a naked woman appeared at the gym where he was training: "Everybody jumped on her and took her upstairs, where we all got together in an orgy." That wasn't all he said, but most of the rest is unprintable in a family newspaper.

Schwarzenegger was 29 and single in 1977, which may slightly mitigate such coarseness, but he was 53 and married in 2001, when Premiere magazine profiled him as "Arnold the Barbarian." Reporter John Connolly recounted a history of crude behavior toward women — groping three female TV hosts on whose programs he was appearing in 2000, for instance. Or humiliating a crew member on a movie set in 1991 by reaching into her blouse and exposing her breasts for the amusement of his friends.

As recently as this past summer, he gleefully chortled to Entertainment Weekly about the "Terminator 3" scene in which he manhandles Kristianna Loken's character, the Terminatrix:

"How many times do you get away with this — to take a woman, grab her upside down, and bury her face in a toilet bowl?" he gloated. "The thing is, you can do it, because in the end, I didn't do it to a woman — she's a machine! We could get away with it without being crucified by god-knows-what-group."

Is Schwarzenegger really the misogynistic boor that these and numerous other anecdotes suggest? His wife, Maria Shriver, insists that her husband is "the exact opposite" of a woman-hater — "the most gracious, supportive man I've ever met." But with such vulgar remarks and raunchy behavior on his resume, its no wonder liberals and feminists are up in arms.

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Thus we have Katherine Pillar, the executive vice president of Feminist Majority, slamming Schwarzenegger's sexual stereotypes as "beyond the pale . . . so appalling." And members of CodePink, a leftist women's group, demonstrating outside Schwarzenegger's Santa Monica headquarters with signs reading "No groper for governor" and "Terminate the barbarian." And Shelly Mandel, the Los Angeles-area head of the National Organization for Women, denouncing the candidate's "obsession with body parts." And protesters greeting even Shriver with "Say no to sexism" pickets.

Nor is it only women who have expressed contempt for Schwarzenegger's horndog persona. "It's pretty disgusting," writes Slate's liberal editor Michael Kinsley of that 1977 story about the Gold's Gym gangbang. "It's disgusting even if it was consensual all around. It's disgusting even though Arnold wasn't married at the time. . . . The fact that he bragged about this episode in a published interview means that he was proud of an attitude toward women that is not acceptable in a politician."

Fair enough. I agree that a history of vulgarity and sexual crudeness says something relevant about a candidate's character and judgment. A man may not automatically be unfit for office because he exploits or belittles women, but voters have every right to subject such behavior to scrutiny.

Just one question: Where was all this outrage when Bill Clinton was president?

Where were liberals and feminists when the most powerful man in the world was helping himself to a 21-year-old intern in the Oval Office? When he was groping an unwilling Kathleen Willey and growling, "I've wanted to do this ever since I laid eyes on you?" When Juanita Broaddrick accused him of having raped her in 1978? When Paula Jones said that he once had her brought to his Little Rock hotel room, pulled her to the couch, exposed himself, and ordered her to "kiss it?"

They were on defense, that's where — excusing Clinton on the grounds that "everybody lies about sex," dismissing Jones as trailer-park trash, insisting that Clinton's policy virtues trumped his egregious womanizing, refusing to give Broaddrick the attention her shocking story deserved.

Those were the days when Time's former White House correspondent Nina Burleigh, far from condemning Clinton's dealings with Monica Lewinsky, announced that she would "be happy to give him [oral sex] just to thank him for keeping abortion legal." When Gloria Steinem wrote in The New York Times that Clinton's assault on Willey could not be called sexual harassment since, after she pushed him away, "Clinton took 'no' for an answer." When Michael Kinsley observed of Clinton's behavior not that it was "disgusting," but that "we all have the right to our flaws — even the President."

Call me cynical, but I can't help thinking that if Schwarzenegger were a liberal Democrat, his "Animal House" record wouldn't be triggering quite so much indignation. His critics may disapprove of his wandering hands and vulgar mouth. But what they really can't stand is the "R" after his name.

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Jeff Jacoby is a Boston Globe columnist. Comment by clicking here.

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