Public citizen

Posted: Sep 05, 2003 12:00 AM

How can Republicans who bashed President Bill Clinton for his boorish behavior with women support Arnold Schwarzenegger?

Any good Republican can point out the obvious differences between the two.

Clinton lied about sex. In 1992, Clinton could have argued that what he did in his private time was not the public's business. Instead, he lied on "60 Minutes" when he said that Gennifer Flowers was "a friendly acquaintance," not a lover. Clinton committed perjury when he denied having sex with Monica Lewinsky. And he lied when he told the American people he "did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky."

Oh yeah, and Clinton was married, which is probably why he chose the Arkansas governor's quarters, and later the White House Oval Office, as bachelor pads of sorts.

Schwarzenegger is in the hot seat today because in 1977 he was too forthcoming -- OK, and crude -- when, at age 29, the then-unmarried bodybuilder gave an interview to the now-defunct Oui Magazine. Ah-nold bragged about an episode when a group of Gold's Gym bodybuilders had sex with one woman. He boasted that women frequently came on to him. He humbly admitted that he would have sex with a woman who is "a little out of shape," if she was good in the sack.

If only the Running Man had said non to Oui. The interview was tasteless.

But then again, tasteless is a relative term in politics. California Democratic Party Chairman Art Torres did a good impersonation of tasteless when he pounced on the Oui story to call Schwarzenegger a "sexual predator."

No surprise there. Team Davis has long engaged in a whispering campaign that suggests Ah-nold is, well, Clintonesque when it comes to women. (Not that they minded Clintonesque under Clinton.)

Spread a rumor around for long enough and, whether it is grounded or not, people will assume it's true.

Schwarzenegger spokesman Sean Walsh said of the interview, "Arnold Schwarzenegger is a father of four who has acknowledged that his bodybuilding career was 25 years in the past and that the '70s were a crazy time and he pushed the envelope in his interviews and in the promotion of his sport."

Translation: Different era, different man. And he wasn't married.

Here's something that helped Clinton and could help the Terminator: The public often is more turned off by the spreader of dirt than the spreadee.

The fact remains that if a married politician has an affair, it's really none of the public's business. Most journalists don't want to touch stories about married pols gone astray. That's why I didn't write about Gennifer Flowers for The San Francisco Chronicle once during the 1992 election and was initially highly skeptical of Paula Jones. Only when the stories were overwhelming and Clinton's behavior reckless did I focus on the "bimbo eruptions."

By then, the press was examining Clinton's private life, because he wasn't private. Some men don't know how to have a discreet affair. It seems it wasn't really sex for Clinton unless state troopers or other men knew what was happening behind closed doors. Et tu, Arnold?

Maybe it's not fair -- indiscreet at 29 doesn't mean indiscreet at 50-something. Still, I'd like to hear one of two things from Schwarzenegger, both of which will send the message that he won't embarrass California:

Either he can tell Californians that he has grown up and is a true husband, and he'll remain so while he is governor of California. He could graduate from bragging about women to a men's magazine to bragging about a woman to the entire state.

Or he could tell Californians that his personal life is personal, and he'll keep it that way. If he does something that he doesn't want to see in the newspapers, he'll be discreet. And he'll stay away from the help.

I'm not asking for a confession, just proof that the actor knows what it means to be an adult.