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California Recall Revelations

Two California columnists examine how the sexual misconduct allegations may effect Republican candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger's chances in winning the gubernatorial recall race.

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    Arnold Schwarzenegger's statewide bus tour, dubbed the "California Comeback Express," has hit some bumps in the road in the last 48 hours.

    On Thursday, The Los Angeles Times reported that during his long career as a bodybuilder and movie star, Schwarzenegger repeatedly groped or sexually harassed women. The candidate said the story was exaggerated, but apologized anyway.


    Yes, I have behaved badly some times. Yes, it is true that I was on rowdy on movie sets and I have done things which were not right that I thought were playful, but now I recognize that I have offended people.

    And those people I have offended I want to say to them that I'm deeply sorry about that and I apologize.


    One woman spoke publicly.


    Arnold was there and I remember him passing by me and groping my breast.


    Maria Shriver, Schwarzenegger's wife, defended her husband.


    As I say to my children, it takes great courage to stand before anybody and apologize. I think that's what Arnold did today. And I think he handled it and I think his statement speaks for itself.


    And today, ABC News and The New York Times reported that an unpublished 1997 book proposal quoted him as speaking positively of Adolf Hitler.

    "I admired Hitler, for instance," he is quoted as say, "because he came from being a little man with almost no formal education, up to power…I admire him for being such a good public speaker and for what he did with it." Schwarzenegger said last night that he does not remember any such comments.


    I always despised everything Hitler stood for. I hate the regime, the Third Reich and all of this Nazi philosophy. I've always fought against that.


    There was swift reaction from embattled Governor Gray Davis on both the sexual misconduct and Hitler controversies.


    This is a matter voters will take into account and decide how much weight to put on it when they vote for Arnold Schwarzenegger. We don't know what he admitted to, what he didn't admit to. His story seems to constantly change, I'm just going to let this all settle in. I don't see how anyone can admire Adolf Hitler. Any decent American has to be offended by that phrase.


    Also today, moveon.org, a Web-based public interest group, launched a new television ad aimed at women voters.

  • TELEVISION AD, Moveon.org:

    If you are a woman, or your mother is a woman, or your wife, or your sister, or your daughter, or there is a woman where you work, you cannot vote for this man, because Arnold Schwarzenegger has a serious problem with women.


    The latest polls, conducted prior to this week's controversies, gives Schwarzenegger with a strong lead in Tuesday recall election. Some 57 percent of those surveyed favored recalling Gray Davis.


    Joining me now are Debra Saunders, syndicated columnist for The San Francisco Chronicle. And Robert Scheer, syndicated columnist for The Los Angeles Times.

    Welcome to you both. Debra Saunders, what do you think is the impact of these controversy that have dogged Arnold Schwarzenegger the last 48 hours?


    Well, I think that The Los Angeles Times story about the groping, in a way, discredits journalism more than Arnold Schwarzenegger.

    It has been pretty clear from other stories that he has a history of being rather crude. But then when you read the story with four people who don't want to be named and they have to go back to 1975, the 1980s, early 1990s to document most of their incidents, you know, I do care, by the way. I want to know that he is good at dealing with women.

    And, what the article tells me is that he didn't used to be — but not that he is a problem anymore.

    The Hitler story, I just can't imagine it sticking considering his association with the Simon Wiesenthal Center. I just don't see it.


    He has contributed to that center as he explained on his campaign stops today. Bob Scheer, what is your view of that, and do you share the view that it's more an indictment of journalism than Arnold Schwarzenegger?


    No, I think Schwarzenegger has gotten a pretty easy ride. He was anointed as the front-runner as a celebrity. You live by the sword, you die by the sword.

    The only thing we know about Arnold Schwarzenegger is as a celebrity. As it turns out, we get a little peek behind the actor and we find he has been a misogynist or certainly a groper. He has admitted to that. But I think the real issue here is that the guy is only an important candidate because of his movie image and now the image has been tarnished.

    We know nothing about what this guy stands for and the state's conservative family value Republicans are backing a guy who is at best a libertine. A wild guy, an actor, one who disagree with them on key social issues, and yet they're backing him for totally opportunistic reasons to defeat a conservative Democrat with whom there are quite a bit of agreements. I suggest this is payback to the Republicans and they're going to get more of it if the guy wins.


    Debra Saunders, what is your view of the impact on this on voters there? It is coming very late in the campaign, just a few days before Tuesday's balloting. What is the impact on voters, particularly those, if there are some, who haven't made up their minds?


    Well, over a million people have already submitted their absentee ballots.

    So it can't have a huge impact, this story. I think there are people who… I mean there isn't a lot of new information in these stories, if you even call it information. So you know, there are family values Republicans who don't like Arnold Schwarzenegger. They have a problem with the way he's related to women and they weren't going to vote for him anyway and they're still not going to.

    I'm sure there are moderate Democrats and independents who have the same reservations. And then there are, you know, people like me, who agree with him on a number of fiscal issues and look at the field and think, Okay, Arnold Schwarzenegger at least has a chance of getting something done in Sacramento, and I don't believe that's the case for Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante, the Democrat, or State Senator Tom McClintock, the Republican.


    But you, Debra Saunders, do support the idea of recalling Governor Davis?


    You know something, I have been against the recall from the start. I thought it looked like sour grapes. I don't believe in recalling someone unless there's been some new horrible scandal. And, you know, Gray Davis won the election square and fair.

    Then he signed a bill SB-60, which allows illegal immigrants to get driver's licenses. I feel so betrayed by that signature. Why is he facing a recall? Because California voters feel he will sell them up the river for special interests to help his career out. What does he do when the recall happens? He signs a bill he had vetoed before because it didn't have any safeguards and he said that absolutely was beneath him. Now all of a sudden it isn't.

    You want to know something, I don't know how I'm going to vote. I still haven't made up my mind. I'm so conflicted.


    Bob Scheer, what impact do you think these latest disclosures might have on the voter's minds?


    I think Debra is right. I mean, Arnold may be saved by the bell. This is not a real campaign. There isn't time to examine the candidates, so this guy is going to squeak by. If this was a real campaign, he'd collapse.

    He knows nothing about how the state works, what do you with water. We don't know his position on the coastal commission. We don't know whether he would increase property taxes or not. We don't know where he would get the money to pay for anything. So we really have no sense at all whether he is a fiscal conservative or anything else. But he's gotten to ride to his celebrity.

    I want to add one thing. I don't think it's unimportant that last July he told Entertainment Today that it was exciting to shove a woman into the toilet head first in Terminator 3 and that he could get away with it because she was a robot. He even made a scatological reference about what should be in the toilet. And then he criticized you can't get away with that with a real person because of the groups that complain.

    Well, the groups that complain about misogyny are not just feminist groups, they're also supposedly Christian women's groups. And for Debra to say family value conservatives, well, they're a small group — no, they claim to be the leadership of the Republican Party.

    And the leadership of the Republican Party has betrayed their conservative agenda. They've betrayed McClintock and they're backing a guy that they know is an embarrassment and they're doing it against a conservative Democrat because, I think, they just don't believe the two-party system and they just want to grab power.


    Debra Saunders, how do you plead?


    First of all, Arnold Schwarzenegger's positions on a number of issues are known. And nobody knows how anybody is going to solve the state budget. I don't care even the people who say they have a plan, I don't know how they think they're going to get it past the legislature.

    Secondly, the Republican Party leadership didn't want to have anything to do with this recall. It started with grass roots people. Republican Congressman Darryl Issa hadn't come along with the money to fund it, it probably would have flopped. Now they're stuck saying they can't let Gray Davis win this thing, and Arnold Schwarzenegger could bring a lot of vitality to the party. It's sort of… I feel like that character in the, like Harrison Ford in the last Indiana Jones movie where you have to take that leap of faith. There's an abyss and you have to sort of step on to it and see what is going to happen. I think that's the position the party is in right now.

    Not because it put itself there but because of some grass roots activists who pushed the recall, Democrats were angry about the car tax, they signed the recall petitions too and here we are.


    What do you think of this recall effort, Lou Cannon, the long time political columnist had a column today on the Web site stateline.org in which he said this has revived interest, lagging interest, among Californians in their politics, in their state's governance; and is therefore a good thing. Do you share that view?


    No, I disagree. I believe in electoral representative democracy. I believe in testing candidates, finding out what they think on issues.

    First of all, I don't think the state is experiencing any great problem. We have a lower unemployment rate than we did under Pete Wilson. During his high point he had nine percent. Ronald Reagan and Pete Wilson raised taxes. Our economic problems are mostly due to the fact that we can't fairly tax corporate property because of Prop. 13, another dumb initiative move.

    And I think most of our problems are national in nature. Gray Davis did not cause the economic meltdown. Gray Davis did not cause the energy problem. It was the FERC, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that wouldn't come to the aid of the state when George Bush's cronies in Texas were gaining the energy market. The Republicans used to believe in deregulation. It turned out to be a big disaster. Gray Davis prevented blackouts of the kind that you had on the East Coast by buying energy, admittedly at a high price. But I don't get the problem with Gray Davis for Republicans. This is a guy who bailed out the private utilities — a pro-prison guy, a pro-death penalty guy.

    If anybody should be unhappy with Gray Davis, it should be liberals. I can see lots of reasons to prefer a more liberal guy for governor, but I don't see what crime Gray Davis has committed that would require the extreme measure of a recall. And I would point out the hypocrisy in California where property values have zoomed in last few years. There are very few Republicans who are not far richer now than when Gray Davis came into office.


    Is there any benefit, Debra Saunders, is there any benefit in your view to either Gray Davis or Lieutenant Governor Bustamante or anybody else, to the problems that Arnold Schwarzenegger may be encountering in the last few days of his campaign? Does it accrue to anybody else's benefit?


    Sure it could. I want to say one thing about what Bob said about blaming the energy crisis on George Bush's FERC. The blackout started in the summer of 2000 before George Bush was elected, so I don't know how that became his, you know, how he could have started it.

    Of course, Gray Davis benefits because some people look at the field and say this is horrible, I can't vote for the recall. I've heard a lot of people saying that lately. I think Tom McClintock, the Republican also on the ballot, benefits because there are Republicans who will say, I just… I don't trust Arnold Schwarzenegger. I'm going to vote with Tom McClintock. Other people do benefit, and I think it hurts Arnold Schwarzenegger a little bit. I don't think it will hurt him much though.

    I think that the public will end up turning on us in the media and blaming us when they see stories like this, so it won't hurt him much.


    We'll have to see, Debra Saunders and Robert Scheer thank you both very much.

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