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Return of the Terminator

Arnold Schwarzenegger talks about T3, politics and his desire to give something back to America.
Paul Chutkow
From the Print Edition:
Arnold Schwarzenegger, July/Aug 03

(continued from page 1)

In this interview, though, and in a subsequent telephone chat, Arnold made clear he has no interest in the Senate. California is his adopted home, he said, and it is here where he wants to give something back. The idea of running for governor is clearly tempting him, and Republican insiders say he is already raising money. But Arnold is not ready to declare his intentions. With great aplomb, he sidesteps all questions about his precise ambitions, but he also makes it clear that he intends to keep fighting for his after-school program, hoping to turn it into an inspiring model that can be replicated across all the public schools in America. As he explains, "The most important things always begin at the grass roots."

Whatever he decides to do politically, one thing is certain: Arnold will do it his way. In the months leading up to the war with Iraq, Arnold says he was constantly invited to go on TV talk shows to respond to the prominent activists of the Hollywood left, actors like Martin Sheen, Barbra Streisand, Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins and Janeane Garofalo. But he always declined. Hollywood, Arnold says, is his community, his family, and he was not about to risk hurting the family by going publicly into battle. Behind the scenes, though, he was hard at work in support of the president. Arnold is quite outspoken about how much he admires the leadership qualities of George W. Bush, especially in contrast to those of Bill Clinton.

"To be president, you have to be heroic. You have to have courage. I mean, look, for instance, at George Bush now. It's extremely heroic, if you think about it. Because the mood of the people changes all the time. The polls change all the time. And you know the way some previous presidents ran their administrations: it was all according to the polls. One day it's in, one day it's out, and he would move with that, with the people."

"But Bush is staying the course. Even though that pisses some people off, and then the polls go down, he stays on course. In the end that pays off, because people say, well, at least one thing we know: that guy is steady. When he says something, he stays with it; that's the kind of a character he is. It's a very heroic thing. Because you get a beating from the press. You get the people complaining. You have the protestors out there. You have your own countrymen overseas saying nasty things about you. You have activist entertainers saying nasty things about you, and politicians of the opposition party doing the same. So you have to have thick skin and you have to have the guts to stay the course. It takes tremendous strength of character to do the job. It takes tremendous strength of character to lead and not just follow. And it's heroic in that you have to be consistent and be continuously driving forward and seeing your vision, seeing your goal, and saying, 'That vision I want to make into a reality, no matter what anyone says.'"

Now you can feel the fire in his belly. Now you can sense why, no matter how busy he is, or how steep the pay cut he would have to take, Arnold just might love to make a run in 2006. Question: "I guess your assessment of Gray Davis is rather negative." Arnold: "I don't even want to get into that. It's such an obvious thing today. The guy has the lowest approval rating of any governor ever. So it would be wrong for me to now jump on top of that. It's irrelevant."

"What is relevant is that if you're a leader, you have to create action. You have to be proactive rather than reactive. You have to plan ahead: Plan ahead with the energy crisis. Plan ahead with the water crisis. Plan ahead with state security and national security. There are lots of problems and challenges that cannot be predicted from one day to the next. Some take 10, 15 years to materialize. You know what it takes to redo the freeways and highways? It takes 10 to 20 years. And then there's the airports. LAX is overbooked. San Francisco is overbooked. They're exhausted. How can we expect to have an increase in imports and exports from overseas when all the airports are overbooked? We have to listen to those signals and say, 'OK, let's get working on it!' That's what action is about. And that's what people admire in action heroes in the movies."

In Arnold's mind, success in the movies and success in politics come down to the very same thing: heroes. Arnold has many personal heroes, from many different backgrounds and ideologies -- Nelson Mandela, Mikhail Gorbachev, Mother Teresa, John Kennedy, Ronald Reagan and Muhammad Ali. But to Arnold, they all have one thing in common: "A lot of people talk, but to be out there in the trenches, to roll up your sleeves, to create opportunities and really make a difference, I think that's where it's at."

Photo by Nigel Perry

Paul Chutkow is the author of Depardieu, a biography of the French actor Gérard Depardieu, and co-author of Harvests of Joy, the autobiography of Robert Mondavi.


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