Arnold Schwarzenegger's public confessional is on full display this week, replete with lingering pauses, downcast eyes and apologies for the grand betrayal of his wife and children. "60 Minutes" on Sunday, "Good Morning America" and Sean Hannity on Monday, a book signing in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday.
As much as the former California governor, Mr. Universe and Terminator would rather be remembered for the inspiring immigrant's tale he details in his new memoir, his mea culpa for fathering a love child with his housekeeper is what everyone is talking about.
But are we witnessing sincerity or self-absorption on steroids?
"His apology is not accepted by me," Laura Ellingson, professor of communication and women's and gender studies at Santa Clara University, said Monday. "I find him not at all contrite or sincerely admitting any wrong doing. He's sort of willing to take a slap on the wrist, but that's all he's taking and he's taking that to get publicity so he can make more money off his book."
Schwarzenegger clearly has another motivation for writing "Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story," which hit bookstores Monday, and putting himself under the swinging light bulb of "60 Minutes's" Lesley Stahl. Political pundits say the 65-year-old action-hero-turned-politician-turned-inside-out is out to restore his legacy and position himself the same way as another politician with an adulterous past: Bill Clinton.
"I know what he's trying to do," Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, senior fellow at USC's Price School of Public Policy, said of Schwarzenegger. "He hopes he can get all of the negative issues out there and off the table and then move on to his agenda, which is to position himself on the world stage as someone who thinks about large issues."
President Clinton, after his indiscretions with an intern in the Oval Office, is now a senior statesmen enjoying a 66 percent approval rating, Jeffe said. "That is not what Arnold has at this point."
But you wouldn't know it to see Schwarzenegger in action last week, she said, where he was "very confident, very self-assured" as he launched the USC Schwarzenegger Institute for State and Global Policy, with millions of his own money.
In Sunday's "60 Minutes" interview, Schwarzenegger said that fathering a child with his housekeeper who continued to work for the family for years, and keeping it from his wife and family, was the "stupidest thing I've done" and acknowledged causing "tremendous pain."
He also admitted he had other affairs during the course of his 25-year marriage to Maria Shriver and kept many secrets in his life, including not telling her his plans to run for governor until four days before his announcement, and trying to keep secret a planned open heart surgery.
"That's the way I handle things. And it always has worked. But, I mean it does not -- it's not the best thing for people around me because I sometimes -- some information I just keep to myself," Schwarzenegger told Stahl.
The day after Schwarzenegger left office, he admitted during a marriage counseling session what Shriver had suspected about the housekeeper's child with her husband's features. She quickly left him and filed for divorce.
Schwarzenegger's publicist and former communications director, Adam Mendelsohn, said his former boss should be applauded for taking the tough questions about his personal life.
"He felt like he had to talk about his success and his failures and he's not thinking about the impact on his legacy," Mendelsohn said. "Writing a memoir forces you to look back at your flaws, and he readily admits he kept things to himself and that was not a positive character trait."
He added, however, "there's never been a single instance where there's been something that happened as governor and he kept it secret."
Larry Gerston, a San Jose State political science professor who wrote a book about the recall election that led to Schwarzenegger's political rise, said that infidelity and denial has been part of Schwarzenegger's life story, including lambasting a 2003 Los Angeles Times story, published during his gubernatorial campaign, that detailed his history of groping women.
While Californians elected him anyway and Schwarzenegger went on to make his mark in California politics, much of his political legacy was "washed away" when the housekeeper affair surfaced at the end of his term.
"Now, he has to go back and rewrite history," Gerston said, "so he can have the position with the public he thinks he deserves."
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