KINSLEY THE PRUDE

John Lemon’s favorite columnist, Michael Kinsley, thinks Arnold Scwarzenegger’s sexual escapades when he was an unmarried bodybuilder 25-plus years is quite relevant to whether he should be governor today.

Some sexual habits reflect an attitude toward other people, especially women, that is worth knowing about in the voting booth. It’s also worth knowing if a politician is a liar and hypocrite, which he is if he’s campaigning with his wife and canoodling with someone else.

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But if it did happen, exactly as he described it in 1977, it’s pretty disgusting. It’s disgusting even if it was consensual all around. It’s disgusting even though he wasn’t married at the time. It’s disgusting even if this amounts to applying the standards of the 21st century to events of the mid-1970s. In terms of his fitness for elected office, the fact that Schwarzenegger bragged about this episode in a published interview makes the question of whether it really happened almost irrelevant.

In 1977, at least, he wished to have people believe that he shared and was proud of an attitude toward women that is not acceptable in a politician. Whether the episode happened or not, today he hasn’t said what he thinks about it all from the perspective of 2003.

The actor may be just surfing the zeitgeist: a swinger in the swinging ’70s, a governor in the sober 2000s. Schwarzenegger — in remarks similar to those of George W. Bush about his drinking and Dan Quayle about evading the draft — has said he didn’t know back then that he’d be running for governor today. Which works fine as an explanation but fails miserably as exoneration.

While I basically agree with this analysis, I do think people can genuinely change. Our current president’s reckless youth is not a good thing if it sends the message that it doesn’t matter what you do in early adulthood. But, to the extent it sends the message that it’s never too late to straighten out your life, that’s not so bad.

Some people grow up rather late in life. People who are born into money and those who are become star athletes and entertainers early in life have a lot of temptations that the rest of us don’t and are much more insulated from the consequences of their bad behavior. Witness the many scandals taking place in the various sports leagues. Or the Kennedy family. I’m not sure what the statute of limitations on youthful boorishness is. One would think 25 years would cover it, though. There may well be many reasons not to vote for Schwarzenegger to run California. I don’t think this is one of them.

FILED UNDER: US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Ryan Booth says:

    Yes, Kinsley is basically correct, but notice the hypocrisy. He judges Arnold to be unfit for office because of a sex act that he finds “disgusting”. But what if I find gay sex disgusting? Does that make all gay candidates unfit for office? I doubt Kinsley would agree.

  2. Ryan Booth says:

    Oh, and I meant to add, Kinsley thought Bill Clinton’s sex in the White House was disgusting, but I don’t remember him saying that Clinton was therefore unfit to hold office.

  3. James Joyner says:

    Probably not. I guess his argument is that consensual gay sex “doesn’t hurt anyone” whereas consensual orgies are dehumanizing to their participants. I’m not sure that’s a distinction that resonates with me.

  4. Matthew says:

    I don’t know what’s the funnier role reversal here:

    a) Kinsley saying “eww, icky,” or . . .

    b) Pat Robertson telling people to support Arnold.

  5. Paul says:

    I just can’t get past the hypocrisy part….

    Kinsley defended not only Clinton’s sex acts but his perjury and obstruction of justice to cover it up.

    Now he wants to claim false morals????

    Ya can’t have it both ways.

    Paul

  6. kdeweb says:

    if it is SO relevant when applying these standards to schwarzenegger, then why not when applying them to bill clinton? schwarzenegger engaged in these activities how many years ago? bill clinton was still engaging in them when he was IN the white house! i love it when the democrats are exposed in their on hypocrisy! they make it too freaking easy.

  7. Gunther says:

    Arguing about the moral equivalence of participating in an orgy, versus gay sex, versus getting oral sex in the White House, isn’t going to lead anywhere. People will disagree on whether these, or other sorts of behaviors, are so disgusting that they render the participant unfit for public office. So calling Kinsley a hypocrite for being squeamish about a gang-bang but shrugging off Clinton’s affair is off the mark, because you can make a plausible case that one is morally worse than the other. You may not agree, but If Kinsley believes they aren’t equivalent then he isn’t being hypocritical.

    The crucial point of his column is the passage:

    In terms of his fitness for elected office, the fact that Schwarzenegger bragged about this episode in a published interview makes the question of whether it really happened almost irrelevant. In 1977, at least, he wished to have people believe that he shared and was proud of an attitude toward women that is not acceptable in a politician. Whether the episode happened or not, today he hasn’t said what he thinks about it all from the perspective of 2003.

    It is true that Bush had a “reckless” youth (which lasted until his late 30s). But he changed, and has been open about the reasons for it. Scwarzenegger has not been open, and claims that he “was just making it up” aren’t going to cut it. His fitness for public office is questionable, not because of what he did, or at least certainly bragged about. It is questionable because people have good reason to doubt whether he has repudiated the attitudes reflected by the behavior in question.

  8. John Lemon says:

    Kinsley …. aaaarrrgh!

    I found this column to be a bit of a hatchet job and basically on par with an argument you would hear from a coolege freshman (albeit with a bit better grammar and logical structure).

  9. There is a difference between liking women to a fault and engaging in behavior that degrades them.

    A little consensual group sex in the swinging 70s is not comparable to a former President who sexually harrassed women WHILE THEY WERE WORKING FOR HIM IN THE WHITE HOUSE, exploited a young 20-year-old who was star-struck and starved for male attention, and against whom there is a credible allegation of rape.

  10. Let’s get this straight: I am a liberal who was appalled and profoundly disappointed in Clinton’s sexual misbehavior. I didn’t think it made him ineligible for office, however. Now do I think Arnold’s indescretions make him ineligible for office. I do, however, wish conservatives would stop evoking Clinton every time Bush is caught in a lie or another conservative is caught with his pants down. I thought you people were holding politicians to higher standards. Well, aren’t you?