Andy Stone: Can’t handle the truth? Time to call in a `stunt lie’
September 4, 2003
Aside from the sheer amusement value of the California recall circus – instead of a preposterous number of clowns climbing out of a single Volkswagen, we now have a preposterous number of clowns crowding into a single ballot – last week we had a remarkable moment of naive political honesty.
Wouldn’t you just know that moment of honesty had to come from Arnold Schwarzenegger?
In general, politicians tell the truth more or less by accident. That is, if the truth just happens to coincide with the “message” they have chosen to deliver, then – what the heck – they go ahead and tell the truth.
If the message and the truth diverge, then it’s message first and truth … well, you know, whenever.
Schwarzenegger’s moment of truth (to coin a phrase) came when he was questioned about a decades-old magazine interview in which he had confessed (bragged, actually) about smoking dope and indulging in group sex.
At the time he gave the interview, that sort of stuff undoubtedly seemed kind of cool (to him, at least). Now, he’d rather not hear about it.
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So, when asked, his first reaction was exactly what one would expect from a politician: He lied.
“I don’t know what they’re talking about,” he said.
When that didn’t work, his next reaction was also political: He attacked the magazine – as if, 30 or so years ago, it had printed that interview as part of a long-range plan to thwart the Austrian bodybuilder’s then unimaginable political career.
Finally, when the absurdity of both of those reactions perhaps became clear to Schwarzenegger (who is certainly no fool), he made the comment that reveals so much about our modern American political world.
Admitting, in essence, that the contents of the magazine article were true, Schwarzenegger said, “I didn’t live my life to be a politician.”
And, in that remark, he exposed a basic assumption of American political life: A politician is not a human being who has lived a life, grown and matured, learned about the world and come to hold a set of beliefs that will guide him in office.
Instead, according to Arnold’s statement (and please forgive me if I call him Arnold – I mean to imply no familiarity, it’s just that “Schwarzenegger” is too darn hard to type over and over again), a politician is someone completely divorced from real-world experience. He is assembled from bits and pieces – a haircut, a suit of clothes, some carefully tested “principles,” a few foolproof slogans … whatever it takes to get the job done.
No, Arnold didn’t live his life to be a politician. He lived his life as the person he was, and as a result of that life he became the person he is. In a better world – where Arnold had strength of character to match the strength of his biceps – he would stand up and say, “Yes, I did those things. I learned from those experiences. They helped make me the man I am – and here’s what I believe today, as the man I have become.”
Instead, he says, ignore my past. It doesn’t count. I didn’t know I was going to run for office.
Actually, I suppose this might all fit in with his campaign message. His basic, if unspoken, slogan seems to be “Vote for me, I’m a movie star, not a politician.”
The difference between movies and real life is that in the movies, if the strength of Arnold’s body is not up to the demands of script, he can call in a stunt double. But, in real life, if the strength of his character is not up to the demands of the script, no stunt doubles are available.
Unless, of course, you want to say that in politics when you’re not up to the demands of the role, you call in a lie – and the lie serves as a “stunt double” for the truth.
I don’t want this column to be nothing more than an attack on Arnold. Certainly, he and I have different political beliefs and, certainly, I think his total lack of experience in government at any level means he is unfit to run the state of California.
But in saying “I didn’t live my life to be a politician” – in simply believing that such a statement was a reasonable reaction to the unearthing of some parts of his past that he doesn’t want to acknowledge – Arnold Schwarzenegger has revealed one of the profound truths of politics today.
Politicians are not intended to be real people. Any resemblance to a real person, living or dead, is purely … political.
[Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org]