By Gabriella Levine
They were one of America’s favorite couples. He, a former bodybuilder, Governor of California and at one time among the highest-paid actors in Hollywood. She, a former network news anchor and, as a niece to President John F. Kennedy, a member of a great political dynasty. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver shared one of America’s most admired relationships. But now, due to another stint of infidelity on the behalf of a man of power, they have been reduced to the scrutiny of a public who once adored them.
On May 9, the couple announced that they were “amicably separating” after 25 years of marriage, claiming that they were taking time to mend their relationship for unspoken reasons. Days later, the now infamous truth surfaced—a decade ago, Schwarzenegger fathered a child out of wedlock.
U.S. politics has always been corrupted by sex scandals. When a story like this hits the media, the nation watches in awe, mesmerized by the disgrace that often follows men who hold office. Arnold has now joined the lengthy wall of political shame, and his name will regularly be uttered in the same breath as names like John Edwards and Elliot Spitzer. We cringed after hearing that John Edwards had cheated on his wife, who was bravely battling breast cancer. We frowned upon Spitzer’s escapades with multiple hookers. We’ve temporarily, and with hopes permanently, locked Dominique Straus Kahn, one of the world’s most powerful bankers, behind bars. French citizens were astounded that they came so close to electing a sex-abusing imposter into public office.
A story like Schwarzenegger and Shriver’s is nothing new, but there is still a lingering sense of loss and disappointment among Americans who, unlike the French, discovered the transgressions of one of our governors after electing him to office and allowing him to preside over the state of California for eight years.
Adultery is appalling on all levels, whether in the public sphere of Hollywood and politics, or in the privacy behind the closed doors of one’s home. It is unfortunate for the families who are shattered by infidelity, especially those who are forced to share the story of their failed relationship with the public, like Shriver and Schwarzenegger. Many may believe that this is a private matter, but when a governor has an affair with a housekeeper, fathers a child, then hides his own son for a decade while keeping his mistress on staff in the same home as his wife and children, the public deserves to know that the man they elected wasn’t who they thought he was. It cannot go unnoticed or unaddressed.
The Schwarzenegger family has been personally affected by this scandal, but in this circumstance, the indiscretion of a single man has impinged upon the American people. Californians, in particular, are forced to acknowledge that the governor they voted into office for two terms was concealing lies, hypocrisy, and an extreme betrayal. This acknowledgement holds a daunting possibility—the immaculate images of our country’s politicians may, in some cases, be facades that cover a history of lies and falsehoods.
Of course, Schwarzenegger’s infidelity may have (and should have) been foreseen. In 2003, Schwarzenegger was accused of groping more than a dozen females on movie sets. In a public statement, Shriver defended Schwarzenegger, claiming that he was an “A-plus human being.” Shriver has now learned the bitter truth that many Americans already know—those we place in office aren’t always outstanding human beings with clean-cut morals.
Schwarzenegger was elected in spite of lying to the American people to selfishly protect his political ambitions. Not every politician hides a skeleton in his or her closet, but it is a shame that many powerful public figures are often powerfully reckless and irresponsible.
Schwarzenegger did not just deceive his wife and children; he fooled the entire nation and ignited a sense of uncertainty among the American people. Can we trust our public figures? Can we believe a man like Schwarzenegger, who ran on the Republican platform of traditional “family values,” yet betrayed his own family?
At a time when we must be constantly vigilant against the presence of foreign threats, we should be able to trust those who represent us within our own country. It isn’t wrong to expect our public figures to treat their power with prudence so as not to destroy their families or themselves. The joke is on Schwarzenegger, the “terminator” who terminated his reputation. But, it is also on the American people who easily accept rather than condemn such acts of carelessness. In the future, when Schwarzenegger hits the big screen once again, perhaps we shouldn’t be so quick to take him back with open arms. Forgive, but never forget.