Joe Conason's Journal

The same Republicans who excoriated Clinton for his consensual misconduct have excused or ignored Schwarzenegger's undenied assaults.

Published October 9, 2003 6:15PM (EDT)

Hypocrites in the locker room
Conservatives capable of honest comment on the Republican victory in California aren't easy to find, so Steve Chapman deserves special attention today. His unsparing examination of right-wing sexual hypocrisy -- a subject almost impossible to exhaust -- in the cases of Bill Clinton and Arnold Schwarzenegger should shame Chapman's comrades on the right. If the new governor's accusers are telling the truth, he has a long history of what the California penal code describes as "sexual battery," a pattern considerably worse than anything credibly charged against the former president.

Yet Republicans who excoriated Clinton for his consensual misconduct have excused or ignored Schwarzenegger's undenied assaults. Chapman names names, including David Frum, William Bennett, Linda Chavez and the Wall Street Journal editorial page, which went so far as to praise Schwarzenegger for his "candor." (He omitted the awesomely phony Sen. Orrin Hatch, however.)

"Maybe the defenders of virtue exhausted themselves so thoroughly attacking Clinton that they have no energy left to find fault with Schwarzenegger," Chapman writes. "In any event, I have yet to hear a peep of disgust from the major moralists of the right." He knows his comrades all too well, as his stinging kicker proves.

Even if the silence of the pseudo-moralists was no surprise, that doesn't necessarily explain why so many Californians were unfazed by the accusations. My own view is that voters wisely tend to discount late hits. In today's Guardian, Susan Faludi argues that more sinister impulses encouraged the same male voters who despised Bill to defend Arnold.

"Why the difference," Faludi asks, "between the two politicians with the wandering eyes?" And she answers: "At a time of deep economic and international insecurity, the easy power of the bully boy is a siren call to the American male populace, as evidenced by Bush's continuing allure to the very men whose interests are least served by his policies. The locker-room game works as long as only men get to play, and only as long as they agree to play by certain rules. One rule is that sensuality is verboten, but aggressive jocularity is not. Humiliating women in a 'playful' way can signal a rejection of 'the feminine' and a reinforcement of male bonding."

Playful male bonding is probably Jay Leno's excuse for his public groveling toward Schwarzenegger. After the actor's announcement of his candidacy on "The Tonight Show," Leno had a vested interest in his victory, no doubt. But as Nikki Finke explains here, his swing toward the Republican right has gone well beyond any obligation to his friend Arnold. I hope he saw the far funnier and smarter Letterman humiliate him last night.
[11:30 a.m. PDT, Oct. 9, 2003]

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By Salon Staff

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