Arnold Comes Full Circle

From film star to governor to movie actor once again. Anyone buying it?

In fairness Schwarzenegger has recently added an altruistic, reputation-enhancing side. I expected he might throw in with Bill Clinton or Bill Gates and take the foundation route. But he has taken a different tack, lending his name to a new organization at USC, the Schwarzenegger Institute for State and Global Policy. It opened with great fanfare last year, with all manner of heavyweight pols and entertainment figures in attendance, from Senator John McCain to producer Brian Grazer. Schwarzenegger and others are plunking down $20 million to fund the venture, which will focus on post-partisanship—the trendy hyphenate of the moment—and explore the globe’s leading topics like climate change and education. No doubt there will be a lot of papers and a lot of meetings. The first big global symposium carries the weighty title “Implementing the Sustainable Energy Future” and commences this month in Austria, Schwarzenegger’s homeland. He is scheduled to teach at his eponymous institute and was, during opening ceremonies, introduced as “Professor Schwarzenegger.” It sounds more like a film role than a reality. Not to come off like a judgmental prude, but I wonder, Can he instruct a class of young people, women and men, trying to find their way and define their politics, their passions, their ethics? Isn’t that a little weird—not only because of his personal travails but because of his impatience and lackluster stint as governor? Or will students think he’s cool nonetheless and flock to his classes?

Certainly one can’t think about Schwarzenegger without worrying what his estranged wife must be feeling as she watches him plunge ahead with life—all of it, of course, in the glare of cameras. Obviously none of us knows what goes on between any couple. This husband and wife have a long history together and four children. As a unit they were supersize, like the Clintons. When there were rumors after the split that Arnold and Maria might reunite, the women around me began chattering: “Will she?” “Won’t she?” How could she?” But what I no longer hear is the kind of reflexively tough judgment Hillary was hit with during Monicagate, when all kinds of women were encouraging her to leave her adulterous spouse. We’re reminded from watching her and the others—Silda Spitzer, Holly Petraeus—that a woman has the right to make up her own mind, to decide what she can and cannot live with. If a wounded spouse wishes to walk away, fine. If she wishes to stay put and rebuild her ego and life within the marriage, as Hillary has done, that’s OK, too. It is not for the rest of us to castigate, to urge, to wax offended on another’s behalf. Love is mysterious and can take a large measure of insult.

So on he struts, the aging Schwarzenegger, across our movie screens and college campuses. Obviously more films will follow, more photo ops, more interviews. What seems apparent is that, whatever happens, whatever Arnold Schwarzenegger does—good, bad, or indifferent—he will do it in public. That’s where he is comfortable, the most at home. If he broods in the dark of night about what sorrows he has caused, we won’t see it. He will rise in the morning, all shiny-optimistic if moderately contrite, and sail on while the rest of us marvel at the spectacle of the veteran action hero with the knowing wink and the obvious dye job who refuses to play by anybody’s rules but his own.