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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 3)

With Arnold Inc., many things seem to overlap for fun and profit, including movies and politics. Arnold is extremely proud of his after-school initiative, known as Proposition 49. That was a California ballot initiative, passed last year, that Arnold launched to use public schools, K through 9, for after-school programs in sports, fitness and culture. He went up and down the state promoting the project, and he amassed plenty of political capital in the process. Under the measure, each year the state -- its finances permitting -- gives up to $50,000 to elementary schools, up to $75,000 to junior highs, and additional grants of up to $200,000 for schools with students coming predominantly from low-income families. To Arnold, the concept is both simple and effective, and it comes straight from the lessons he learned from his own struggles coming up from nothing. Kids need, he says, what he got from Lucille Ball and others: support, warmth, positive mentoring and a feeling of belonging.

"I just want to give kids what I got to make me successful," Arnold says. "I want them to have the same thing. Especially in the inner cities, kids are being told all the time, 'You're in the ghetto. You'll never make it. You'll always be poor. Success is not for you.' And that's terrible. And so what I'm trying to tell them is that this is negative propaganda and lies. Work hard and you can do it. And we try to give them people who will support them along the way."

Arnold says he is just as positive and reinforcing with his own children. "The greatest investment that you can make for children is to put in time with them. You have to be the one who teaches them, you have to be the one who works with them in math, because they will remember that down the line. Every child is born with this empty pocket and so 'Who is going to fill it up?' is the question at the end of the day. Is it going to be the scum that fills it up, or is it going to be me, or the coach, the teacher, or the priest in church? Who is going to fill it up and create a good human being?"

To raise money for his Prop. 49 fight, Arnold came up with his own unique version of Bill Clinton renting out the Lincoln Bedroom: he invited potential donors to the set of Terminator 3 for a private glimpse of the action and photos with the Terminator himself. "I'd call up some guy that was supporting us and say, 'Yeah, right now I'm calling from the set.' And the guy would say, 'Wait a minute! You are shooting there now?' And I'd say, 'Yeah, I'm in the Terminator outfit and all the makeup.' And the guy would finally get it and he would say, 'Can I bring my son down?' And I say, 'Well, that will cost you a hundred.' And the guy says, 'You got it! You got it!'" Now, readers, let's be clear: that "hundred" means $100,000. And he often got the full asking price.

With his charm, his star power, and that kind of ability to raise big sums of money, Arnold is widely seen as a potential savior for California's Republican Party. Today, the glory Reagan years are a distant memory for the state GOP, and the party often comes across as anemic and disjointed. With Governor Davis appearing like the lamest of ducks, though, there is growing talk in the press and in political circles that Arnold might run for governor in 2006. Many Republicans believe he would be a strong candidate, no matter which Democrat emerges at the end of Davis's second term. But some state Republicans would rather see Condoleezza Rice, President Bush's national security adviser, run for governor, with Arnold then running for the Senate against Barbara Boxer, a liberal, anti-war Democrat who could be vulnerable next time around.

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."

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