Monday, June 6, 2011




“It is nice to hear,” writes a reader of one of California’s largest newspapers, “that Arnold Schwarzenegger is sorry for his actions and takes full responsibility. But I just don’t quite understand what it means when a powerful person does wrong, tells the media that he takes full responsibility…and then the public sees no accountability or punishment for those actions.”

That reader is not alone in an era when American politicians who resign their offices as a consequence of wrongdoing are as rare as hen’s teeth. Eliot Spitzer, the onetime New York governor caught patronizing a call-girl ring, is the rare exception to this rule. But even he quickly got a high-paying gig doing a national TV talk show. Does anyone doubt he will someday seek another office? Sen. Spitzer, anyone?

That's howit is, too, with Schwarzenegger, the ex-governor who conveniently waited until his term expired to admit fathering a 13-year-old child with one of his household servants, conception occurring right in his Mandeville Canyon mansion in the Brentwood district of Los Angeles. There is even speculation the ex-governator used state security details to facilitate his escapades in Sacramento.

Then there's retired boxer Oscar de la Hoya of Los Angeles, who gets nothing but sympathy on sports talk radio after entering rehab for what he called his “flaws.” Reports say those defects include substance abuse. It’s the same with actor Charlie Sheen, whose live shows usually sell out despite his boorish behavior, mistreating women and drunken rants.

If de la Hoya had been knocked out in the ring or Sheen flubbed some lines on his Two and a Half Men sitcom, neither would have gotten nearly the same public sympathy.

But the public has less right to be concerned with the likes of de la Hoya or Sheen than with people like Spitzer or Schwarzenegger. So far, there is no evidence Spitzer’s betrayal of his wife had any public implications. But there is plenty of evidence that Schwarzenegger’s dishonesty was reflected repeatedly in public policy decisions while he was governor.

There was, for instance, his infamous commuting of the voluntary manslaughter prison sentence of Esteban Nunez, son of onetime Democratic Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, from 16 years down to seven, which might allow the younger Nunez to seek parole as soon as three years from now. All the younger Nunez did, Schwarzenegger said when he acted, was hold the victim down while he was stabbed to death.

At the time, Schwarzenegger said the commutation came because of a review of the case. Later, though, he admitted it was “what you do for a friend,” marking his first statement as essentially untrue.

Then there was his promise after the 2003 exposure of his serial that he would hire a private investigator to look into his personal behavior. No investigator ever turned up, and now the world has some idea why.

There was also his promise on the day he announced for office that he would never take money from special interests because it always comes with string attached.

He was right about the strings, but he began taking special interest money the very next day, claiming no person or company giving to him could be a special interest. His donors included oil companies, car dealers, developers, casino Indian tribes – all major special interests.

It wasn’t long before they were pulling the strings of their new Arnold puppet – car dealers getting a reduction in the vehicle license fee, oil companies getting Schwarzenegger’s opposition to a state severance tax on oil drilled in California and casino tribes winning new agreements allowing them many thousands more slot machines. Schwarzenegger all the while denied those actions had anything to do with campaign donations.

The quid pro quos went on throughout Schwarzenegger’s seven years-plus in office, duly reported here and elsewhere, but Schwarzenegger paid no political or legal price whatsoever for what were in essence bribes.

That’s why it’s hard to imagine any long-lasting consequences from Schwarzenegger’s admission that he betrayed his wife at least once with one of their joint employees. Will Maria Shriver remain away from the family manse? Maybe, but she knew of his womanizing habits for years before his election, yet stuck around.

Will his acting career suffer? Probably not. His movie contracts for more “Terminator” films and one called “Cry Macho” were unaffected when he declared his Hollywood comeback on hold.

It’s just another case of a politician suffering little or no consequence for his behavior, just as state legislators now expect financial consequences if they don’t pass a balanced budget by mid-June, despite last year’s ballot initiative demanding they be docked all their pay for whatever time such a budget is late.

And whose fault is all this? The old comic strip character Pogo famously said it best: “We have met the enemy and it is us.”

Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit

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