Man Without Qualities

Thursday, April 10, 2003

He'll Be Back

The Man Without Qualities is a big Schwarzenegger fan. And I really would like to believe that he could be elected Governor or Senator of California.

However, before people start getting too serious about those prospects, I would like to know what the answers to some rather obvious questions are going to be, bearing in mind that a Republican candidate in California must be able to muster a coalition including a lot of economic and social conservatives, including Christian conservatives. According to the Field Institute, only 37 percent of registered Republicans regard themselves as middle of the road whereas 40 percent describe themselves as strongly conservative and 23 percent as somewhat conservative. So it seems to me that before the Republican Party seriously considers Mr. Schwarzenegger, they had better have thoroughly thought through some very unpleasant questions:

1. Mr. Schwarzenegger was for a good many years a major figure - perhaps the major figure - in Southern California bodybuilding, and bodybuilding has a lot of unpleasant and even illegal aspects. He has admitted and regretted using damaging, muscle-enhancing drugs. That alone will not have much effect on his political prospects - it is, after all, his body and his health. But what about others? - say, impressionable young men who began taking such drugs during his reign? Did Mr. Schwarzenegger actively encourage such drug-taking? Are there any now-severely-damaged current or former bodybuilders who will claim that the reason they now have defective kidneys or hearts or other horrible maladies is that they began taking body-building drugs at Mr. Schwarzenegger's urging? Did Mr. Schwarzenegger actually supply such drugs to others?

2. Was Mr. Schwarzenegger involved with any of the other less-than-attractive aspects of the serious body building scene? Are there people who would or could credibly claim that he was? For example, Mr. Schwarzenegger's nude photographs have been published in Spy Magazine. Is that the full extent of Mr. Schwarzenegger's adventures in the skin trade? And I write this without meaning to condemn Mr. Schwarzenegger in any way or to suggest that he has trafficked or participated in the pornography business.

3. Mr. Schwarzenegger has often been rumored to have a very healthy and wide-ranging heterosexual appetite. I again do not judge his behavior here - but many in his necessary voting base would. Moreover, there are some rather common - but not universal - consequences of such behavior. Are there women who will make unpleasant claims during a heated election?

I bring these issues up not out of any desire to slime Mr. Schwarzenegger or to suggest that he could not be a successful candidate. In fact, my guess is that he is likely not very vulnerable on any of these counts. His interest in seeking statewide office suggests that he doesn't have much to hide. I am aware of nobody claiming that Mr. Schwarzenegger was involved in drugs (beyond using them), prostitution or pornography. I am aware of no rumors that he has illegitimate children.

But I also recall that many in California still believe that former Republican Senate candidate Bruce Hershenson is a porno fan, a rumor successfully spread by Democrats on behalf of Barbara Boxer on election eve - an election in which Ms. Boxer was very narrowly elected. Such charges and slime have more impact against Republicans than Democrats simply because many more Republican voters are socially conservative. It seems all but certain that Democrats will again use such tactics if Mr. Schwarzenegger is put forward.

Unfortunately, that means that answers to such questions simply must be readied in advance. Otherwise, it's not worth the trouble to the Party or Mr. Schwarzenegger. And, if good answers exist, shouldn't the questions be raised and put to rest now?

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