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 different 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. 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 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 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 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 proven.)
Clinton’s adulterous conduct was enough to outrage conservative moralists. Columnist and former Reagan administration official Linda Chavez said 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 Bennett, author of several books celebrating old-fashioned values, said Clinton “acted sexually more like an alley cat than an adult.”
Maybe the defenders of virtue exhausted themselves so thoroughly attacking Clinton that they have no energy left to find fault with Schwarzenegger. In any event, I have yet to hear a peep of disgust from the major moralists of the right.
If the charges against Schwarzenegger persist and multiply, I predict conservatives will find a way to address Arnold’s behavior: They’ll blame it on Clinton.
Steve Chapman writes for Creators Syndicate.