Schwarzenegger's zest for the American dream counterbalances his past of sex, drugs

IT MIGHT COST me my feminist membership card, but if I were a California resident, I'd vote for Arnold Schwarzenegger for governor - even if I'd have to wait a few more months to do so.

The big news yesterday, of course, was a ruling by a federal court in San Francisco that the recall/replacement election should be put off until some problems with the state's voting technology are addressed.


But the timing of the election is not exactly Arnold's biggest worry right now. Instead, it's that his raunchy remarks about sex and women have apparently widened the gender gap that already exists among California voters.

Among women, who prefer Democrats and who have sent two Democratic women to the U.S. Senate, the Republican trails significantly.


It appears his body-builder past, his violent movies and reports of boorish on-set behavior outweigh his support for abortion, some gun control, the environment and after-school care for children - social issues that usually appeal to women.

Not only is Arnold suffering in the polls, women are showing up to protest at his campaign stops, and women's groups are organizing against him.

Things have gotten to the point where he and wife Maria Shriver cuddled in front of an Oprah Winfrey Show audience of shrieking, adoring women yesterday to try to deflect the heat.

"We really were out there doing crazy things. We were trying to get the attention," Arnold told Oprah when she asked him about his braggadocio of 26 years ago.

"At that time I didn't think I was going to run for governor."

It was his well-worn response to the question. More compelling was his wife's response when Oprah asked if she, as a Kennedy woman, had been bred to look the other way if her husband cheated.

"You know that ticks me off," Shriver said to an audience ovation. "I am my own woman, I have not been bred to look the other way. I accept him with all his strengths and all his weaknesses, as he does me."

Sounding very Hillary-esque, Shriver added: "I know the man I'm married to. I honor what we have been through together."


Maybe I am getting soft or maybe I have become inured to this kind of thing, but a 25-year-old magazine interview, in which Arnold bragged about group sex, sex before body-building competitions, drug use and god-knows-what-else, does not impress me as much as his enthusiasm for the American dream - something that also seems to have dimmed in me.

Arnold Schwarzenegger appeals to me because he is optimistic and energetic, and he should be.

He is living the classic immigrant success story, and that has tremendous uplifting appeal at a time when Americans have come to think of all immigrants as terrorists or economic parasites.

"When you are a foreigner," he told Oprah, "you are received with open arms in this country. You have to give something back."

Thirty-five years ago, he was a broke, unknown Austrian body-builder who could barely speak English when he vowed to friends that he would come to America, become a movie star and a powerful millionaire and marry a glamorous wife.

He traded on his body-building success to get into the movies. And he traded on his movie stardom to meet the powerful people who could help him in business and politics - and introduce him to the American princess who would become his wife.


He has just about checked everything off that quintessential American list of successes, and that should earn him the regard of anyone in this country - man or woman.

Along the way, Arnold has said some crude and outrageous things to promote body-building, his movies and himself.

And not all of his comments are ancient history. He said some offensive stuff while gabbing with entertainment writers about Terminator 3, which was released this summer.

The problem his women detractors have with Arnold is that he isn't sufficiently remorseful. He isn't even apologetic.

"We've got to forget about the '70s. I was a different person then," he has said.

But I have become suspicious about the sincerity of apologies that are beaten out of public figures who misspeak themselves about sensitive groups.


The irony here is that Arnold is also being criticized for an interview he gave to Esquire magazine this summer, in which he made the point - somewhat inarticulately - that body-builders, like beautiful women, endure the same kind of negative assumptions about their brain power.

Seems to me, this guy gets it.