- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 2, 2003

The Terminator got a lesson in major-league politics yesterday: If the boobs don’t get you, the bottoms will.

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s campaign spokesmen first denied that he had touched all the boobs and squeezed all the bottoms that the Los Angeles Times, all out of breath, said he had. On second thought, the recollections, as if through the haze of a hangover, started coming back to him.

He shut down the spin machine before his handlers could even get it cranked up, and forthrightly apologized, in a way that Bill Clinton never did. A blockbuster revelation that he was a randy Hollywood dude in his younger days has been expected since he first entered the race, but this blockbuster is probably too little and too late to bust Arnold’s block. Besides, getting patted and squeezed is why boobs and bottoms go to Hollywood in the first place.

His apology, which startled a rally of several hundred fans in San Diego, was manly enough: “Let me tell you something,” the actor said, as his handlers swallowed hard and winced. “A lot of [what] you see in the stories is not true, but at the same time, I have to tell you that I always say, that wherever there is smoke, there is fire. That is true.

“So I want to say to you, yes, I have behaved badly sometimes. Yes, it is true that I was on rowdy movie sets and I have done things that were not right, which I thought then was playful, but now I recognize that I have offended people. And to those people that I have offended, I want to say to them I am deeply sorry about that and I apologize, because this is not what I’m trying to do.”

The Los Angeles Times said it had spent seven grueling weeks collecting and checking the stories, some 25 years old or more. The story was written by a committee, so great was the task.

Few men in their mature years want to be remembered for the youthful, foolish things they did when they were young and foolish. The disclosures might even reassure family-values conservatives in Southern California who were more than a little upset at the first disclosures that Arnold cavorted with shady characters in his early days in America, characters who gave gaiety and randiness a bad name. Arnold has always liked girls, after all.

Still, there’s no excusing boorish behavior, even in Hollywood, where the trashification of the American culture began (and continues), and even after the dramatic lowering of expectations of what we can expect of the men we reward with high office. If a president can turn the Oval Office into a cheap bordello and keep his job, survive credible accusations that he raped a constituent and generally behave in a way that would have gotten him thrown out of Maxine’s in Hot Springs, voters in California are likely to cut a movie star a little slack for having behaved in a way that everyone expects a Hollywood movie star to behave.

The polls suggest that Californians have, in fact, pretty much made up their minds. The vote to recall the governor, which looked a little dicey a fortnight ago, no longer does. Cruz Bustamante, who had opened up a small lead over Mr. Schwarzenegger a month ago, has fallen back and now trails by a significant margin. Of course, the polls could be wrong, but they rarely are. The weekend could revive the Bustamante campaign, but it probably won’t.

The Terminator appears to have succeeded in turning the California circus, which had made the state the butt of jokes, into a serious search for a way out of the disaster wrought in Sacramento by Gray Davis and his Democrats, who actually are as bad as everybody thinks they are. No one defends the governor, and Mr. Bustamante, largely through his own campaign ineptitude, is now regarded as Davis Lite. There’s a growing sentiment that the recall, and the election of Arnold Schwarzenegger, is California’s last chance. If this doesn’t work, they may have to go into receivership and let Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey collect the pieces.

The Terminator looks like the real deal, not as conservative as a lot of Californians would like, not as Republican as he could be, but he could be the governor to restore order to the party and make it possible for conservative Republicans, who gave us Ronald Reagan, to prosper once more.

Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Times.

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