Believe it or not, there was a time when people didn't go on TV to confess their sins. That was back when most understood what sin is, before everything became excusable, especially for celebrities and the politically powerful.
Former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is on a media tour promoting his book, "Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story." It certainly is.
On "60 Minutes," in USA Today and elsewhere, Schwarzenegger acknowledges affairs with women not his wife and the son he fathered with their housekeeper. He calls it all a "mistake."
No, a mistake is something far less consequential. Claiming you've been to "all 57 states," as President Obama said during the 2008 campaign, is a mistake. Does "mistake" best describe Arnold's behavior?
For certain readers, definitions may help. Dictionary.com defines a "mistake" as "an error in action, calculation, opinion, or judgment caused by poor reasoning, carelessness, insufficient knowledge, etc."
Let's pick another word -- "fornication" -- and consider its definition: "voluntary sexual intercourse between two unmarried persons or two persons not married to each other." It's an old-fashioned word that has fallen out of favor, but doesn't it describe Schwarzenegger's behavior better than "mistake"? If you prefer a definition with some moral force, it is "sexual immorality in general, especially adultery."
Perhaps the saddest moment in the "60 Minutes" interview with Lesley Stahl is a video of Schwarzenegger's wife, Maria Shriver, defending him when he was accused of groping several women. Shriver basically testifies to her husband's character when she says she has spent more time with him than the few moments his accusers claim they spent, implying she knows he doesn't do stuff like this. Given Schwarzenegger's piggish behavior, Shriver's role as a character witness for a man who clearly has none is painful to watch.
One of the criticisms of the Republican Schwarzenegger when he became governor was that he quickly moved to the left from his mostly conservative-sounding campaign themes. He blamed the Democratic majority in the California State Assembly. So much for sticking to political principles.
Schwarzenegger's interviews reveal a man without a moral center. He didn't admit to fathering his housekeeper's son until after he left office, reportedly during a session with a marriage counselor. Lesley Stahl asked him why he didn't tell Maria about the affair. "I didn't know how," he said. Sure he did. It's something like Lauren Bacall telling Humphrey Bogart how to whistle in "To Have and Have Not." He simply had to open his mouth and tell her. Was it political expediency that kept him quiet? What other explanation could there be?
Does he care nothing about his children and the message he has sent them? Apparently not, or he would have behaved more responsibly.
Next up is Monica Lewinsky. She reportedly is writing a book about her liaisons with Bill Clinton. "Affair" doesn't seem the right word for assignations so transitory, does it? What additional detail does the public need to have? Those we were given were sleazy enough to prompt mothers of young children to shield them from news coverage for months on end. Lewinsky's writing the book for the money. Apparently, the handbags she designed failed to catch on.
Richard Nixon couldn't get away with "mistakes were made" when his press secretary, Ron Ziegler, tried explaining the Watergate affair. But Arnold Schwarzenegger thinks he can get away with this. In today's "anything goes" climate, maybe he's right.
The cultural condemnation for this behavior long ago went into retreat. Still, if you want to support fidelity while showing disapproval for Schwarzenegger's behavior, don't buy his book, or Monica's. Schwarzenegger's book might have been more accurately titled, "Total Reprobate." Reprobate: "A depraved, unprincipled, or wicked person."