The Teflon groper

Arnold's army says his sordid sexual history doesn't matter -- and GOP honchos just want to close their eyes and win.

Topics: Arnold Schwarzenegger,

The Teflon groper

They come one after another, relentlessly, and — like some crazy California combination of the names on the wall at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and those chocolates that kept coming down the conveyor belt too quickly for Lucy to handle — it is the sheer number of them that ultimately becomes overwhelming.

At first, there were seven — seven women who told the Los Angeles Times that Arnold Schwarzenegger had groped or grabbed or otherwise humiliated them in a forceful sexual fashion. Three women said Schwarzenegger had grabbed their breasts. A fourth said he reached up under her skirt and grabbed her butt. A fifth said Schwarzenegger groped her and tried to strip her in a hotel elevator. A sixth said Schwarzenegger pulled her onto his lap and whispered, “Have you ever had a man slide his tongue into your [anus]?” A seventh, a waitress at the time, said Schwarzenegger called her over to his table and asked her for a favor: “I want you to go into the bathroom, stick your finger in your [vagina], and bring it out to me.”

That was Thursday. On Friday, three more women told the Times of unpleasant encounters with the man who would be governor. Collette Brooks said that Schwarzenegger grabbed her butt and said “nice ass” when she was a 23-year-old intern at CNN. Linnea Harwell, an assistant director on Schwarzenegger’s 1988 film “Twins,” said the actor regularly stripped naked in front of her and once tried to pull her into a bed when she was waiting for him to sign paperwork. Carla Baron, a stand-in on “Twins,” said Schwarzenegger bent her over and rammed his cigar-flavored tongue into her mouth.

By Saturday, four more women had added their names to the list. A 51-year-old woman told the Times that she met Schwarzenegger in a recording studio in 2000; minutes later, she said, he pinned her to his chest, spanked her five or six times, then said: “This is what should happen at your house every morning.” Tamee Smith, 46, said Schwarzenegger grabbed her breast during the filming of “Predator” in 1986. Jan Prinsmetal, 50, said Schwarzenegger reached up her skirt and grabbed her butt outside a gym in the 1980s. And Elizabeth Rothner, a 45-year-old schoolteacher, said Schwarzenegger lifted her shirt and exposed her breasts to a crowd of people inside a Santa Monica bar in 1979.

Margaret O’Hair has heard all about these allegations, and she knows what she thinks. “You know what?” she said Sunday in Sacramento. “Nobody’s perfect.”

California voters will go to the polls Tuesday to decide whether to recall Gov. Gray Davis — and if they do, to choose a replacement for him. Polls released last week showed the recall winning and Schwarzenegger handily beating his replacement-candidates rivals, but that was before the Los Angeles Times began running a series of stories documenting Schwarzenegger’s mistreatment of women over the last 30 years. Now the race appears to be tightening: A Knight-Ridder poll released over the weekend showed a dramatic softening in support for the recall, and a Davis spokesman told Salon Sunday that an internal Davis campaign poll has the recall trailing for the first time in months.

But you wouldn’t have guessed any of that Sunday in Sacramento, where thousands of Schwarzenegger supporters joined their man in a red, white and blue march on the state Capitol. What the world knows now about Arnold Schwarzenegger — the allegations of groping and grabbing (allegations that Schwarzenegger, by apologizing for his behavior, has generally confirmed), the obnoxious comments about shoving a woman’s head in the toilet and seeing the rare woman who is “as smart as her breasts look,” admissions about group sex and drug use, statements that he had a certain admiration for Adolf Hitler — would be enough to crush the candidacy of any mortal man. But Arnold Schwarzenegger is not just any man — he’s an action-adventure hero, damn it, and the candidate with the best chance of returning California to Republican control — and Schwarzenegger’s supporters are standing by their man as the white knight who will soon restore moral luster to the Golden State.

“I’m supporting Arnold Schwarzenegger because he is representative of a whole wave of feeling that is going across California right now,” said O’Hair, a schoolteacher from the Sacramento suburb of Roseville who hauled her own kids downtown to see Schwarzenegger at the Capitol. O’Hair said she is sticking with Schwarzenegger despite the allegations against him because she believes he is a “changed man.” Given that the L.A. Times has reported allegations of abuse as recent as 2000, it is not clear when, exactly, that the actor might have changed. For O’Hair, it doesn’t matter.

“He said he’s sorry, and now it’s a new day,” she said Sunday. How does she know that he has changed? “I don’t know, I’m not him. I just know that who he is now is who I’m voting for.” How does she know who he is now?” “You have to have faith,” she says.

Faith is a central component of the Schwarzenegger campaign, although not the religious kind that drives many Republicans candidacies these days. In fact, the religious right’s candidate of choice in this race is Calif. Sen. Tom McClintock, a straight-talking, anti-abortion conservative who refused to drop out of the race in the face of the Schwarzenegger juggernaut and who is now poised to benefit if Republican voters find the latest allegations about Arnold too much to stomach.

Rather, the faith that drives the Schwarzenegger campaign is the faith that he is what he says he is — a fiscal conservative and upright family man — despite all sorts of evidence to the contrary. Outside Team Arnold, there is plenty of skepticism on both fronts. Conservatives worry that he’s too much like George Bush I, or even worse: a candidate who will win office as a fiscal conservative but then wind up raising their taxes. Liberals worry that he’s too much like George Bush II: someone who will campaign as a social moderate only to become a tool of the hardcore religious right.

And in the middle, there are people like Kerry Martello and Carol Stanley. Martello is a 22-year-old college student who has volunteered to work on the Schwarzenegger campaign. Asked last week why she supports Schwarzenegger, she cited his open-mindedness, “his willingness to look at California as a business, his new and innovative ways to make it work.” What are some of those new and innovative ways”? “Well,” Martello said, “treating the state like a business. He says you can save, you know, millions of dollars if you just run it like a business.”

Stanley, a somewhat older Schwarzenegger fan from Sacramento, turned out to see her candidate at the march on the Capitol Sunday. Asked about her support for Schwarzenegger, she said: “I like what he stands for. I think he’s going to get the power back to the people; maybe we’ll get to do what we want with our money instead of the government making all of the decisions for us.” Pressed for a specific Schwarzenegger policy position she likes, she said: “It would be better if you talked to my husband.”

It’s a recurring theme when you talk with Schwarzenegger supporters. They’re passionate for their candidate, even if they don’t know exactly why. “Everybody who supports Tom McClintock has a policy reason for supporting Tom McClintock,” says Mark Williams, a conservative radio talk show host in Sacramento. “But I’ve rarely spoken with an Arnold supporter who knows why he wants Arnold to win — except that he wants him to win.”

Williams talks with Schwarzenegger supporters every night on his show, and he is convinced that support for the actor is wide but thin. “If you took a stroll through it, you wouldn’t get your ankles wet,” he said. “There isn’t a lot of thought to it. As the campaign goes on, people find reasons to support him. But initially, it’s because A) he’s not Gray Davis, B) he can win, and C) he’s Arnold.”

That’s how it is initially for some supporters, and that’s how it stays. After years of running hardcore conservatives for statewide office — and losing each and every time — California Republicans see in Schwarzenegger a more moderate voice who can roll to victory Tuesday. And for many of them, that’s enough to let them hold their noses and vote, even as the unseemly allegations keep pouring forth.

Brian O’Neel is one of these “just win, baby” Republicans. As press secretary for Tim Leslie, one of the most conservative members of the California Assembly, O’Neel said he would naturally be more inclined to support McClintock in this race. Instead, he’s backing Schwarzenegger. It is, he says, “purely a prudential thing — he can win.”

Still, there comes a limit, and the allegations in the Times’ stories push Schwarzenegger close to it. O’Neel — who spoke to Salon just after the first round of groping allegations came to light — said the scandal surrounding Schwarzenegger “bothers me in the sense that it would bother me if I heard that about anyone. The ideal is that your leaders have character and principles and values and virtues, but the fact of the matter is that these things happened a long time ago, he seems to be a great family man now, and — my goodness — if they were going to hold things against me I did 20 years ago, we’d all be in trouble.”

Of course, not all of the news about Schwarzenegger is nearly that old. As already noted, some of the allegations of inappropriate sexual behavior are as recent as 2000, and Schwarzenegger’s dismissive and insulting comments about women run straight into the summer of 2003. The recent nature of some of Schwarzenegger’s conduct seem to come as a surprise to some of the Schwarzenegger supporters at the march on the Capitol Sunday; they had heard the campaign talk about “ancient history,” and they had believed it.

But for many others, the allegations would plainly be meaningless whatever they were and whenever they appeared. Pamela Barnett and Arlyn Eaggot are mortgage loan officers from San Francisco, and they walked through the campaign stop in matching his and hers “Join Arnold” T-shirts. Although the Los Angeles Times has said flatly that no one from the Davis campaign led reporters to the women who said they have been groped by Schwarzenegger, Barnett and Eaggot don’t buy it.

“This is just Gray Davis and the normal sleaze tactics he uses when he’s running for office,” said Barnett, 32. Eaggot, who is 32, says the allegations are “politically motivated.” Does that mean that he thinks the women are lying? “Yes.” All of them? “Yes,” he said, I think it’s a coordinated effort.”

Barnett and Eaggot make much of the fact that many of the women have not come forward until now — and that none of them apparently filed police reports.

Catharine MacKinnon, law professor at the University of Michigan and the University of Chicago and a national expert on sexual harassment, said it is wrong to read too much — of anything, really — into the fact that the women did not come forward sooner.

“When women are raped they don’t go the police by a 10-1 ratio,” MacKinnon told Salon Sunday. “It appears that these women came forward now because they were found. That’s the way it was with Anita Hill and a lot of other women who have come forward at various times; a man [who has abused them] is coming into promience, and someone finds them and asks them a direct questions and they answer truthfully.”

MacKinnon read the stories from the Los Angeles Times Sunday, and she said she was struck by the fact that Schwarzenegger seems amused by his misbehavior. MacKinnon noted that the women who have come forward invariably say that Schwarzenegger laughed when they objected to his conduct. “I find particularly chilling this reaction of laughing when they defend themselves,” MacKinnon said. “He thinks women’s outrage at what he’s doing is funny. He has a pleasure response to it, and that’s chilling.”

That’s certainly how Marilyn Shirey feels about it. Together with her 15-year-old daughter Elizabeth, Shirey attended the Schwarzenegger rally in Sacramento Sunday in silent protest. Between them, they held a sign that said: If Schwarzenegger wins, women lose.” Looking out at thousands of people — many of them women — sporting “Join Arnold” stickers and T-shirts, Shirey was all but at a loss for words.

“I look at the women out here, and I think, What are they thinking?” Shirey said. “If you wouldn’t leave your daughter, your wife, your aunt alone in a room with him, why would you elect him as governor of the state? What does that say to the women of this state — let alone to the men who care about women in their lives?

Tuesday night, Californians may find out.

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>