Discussing and Repenting at Leisure

Friday October 17, 2003

Governor-elect Schwarzenegger is publicly floating the idea that—to take quick advantage of his electoral popularity while it lasts—he is considering initiating a November, 2004 referendum to ask the voters to put a constitutional cap on state spending. And isn’t that a chilling reminder of the first days of the Jerry Brown era in Oakland? 

For those readers who don’t know the history, Brown was elected mayor of Oakland in a landslide victory in the spring of 1998. Even before he took office, Brown announced plans to ask voters to expand the mayor’s powers. The result was the passage of Measures X and D, the first to give the mayor (among other things) control of the city’s bureaucracy, the second to allow the mayor to appoint three members to a formerly all-elected Oakland Unified School District Board. We can discuss the details of this when we have more time, but five years later, with business development stalled, crime soaring, and the public schools seized by the state, many Oaklanders are now feeling that our arrangement with Jerry Brown—like that between the young Count Vlad and God in Francis Ford Coppola’s “Dracula”—has not turned out entirely satisfactorily. 

Act in haste. Repent at leisure. Or so some people say. 

Measures X and D were passed in the euphoria of the original Brown election, without a lot of reading of the fine print, or much of a discussion of the possible pitfalls and long-term implications. In preparation for a revote on Measure X next year, Oaklanders have recently been studying the law at some length, trying to figure out exactly what it was that we did. This is sort of a barndoor-horse-escape kind of a thing. Perhaps Californians in general might want to learn from the Oakland lesson and do the careful review of Mr. Schwarzenegger’s proposed referendum before the fact, rather than after. But we shall see. 

Meanwhile, at the risk of having all of my good Republican friends admonish me to get over it, I’m wondering if we are going to have any sort of resolution of Mr. Schwarzenegger’s Affair Of The Fifteen Women. 

For those of you who missed that one (or held your hands over your ears and shouted, “I don’t wanna hear it! I don’t wanna hear it! I don’t wanna hear it!”), shortly before the recall election, the Los Angeles Times released a story saying they’d found some 11 women who said that Mr. Schwarzenegger had physically assaulted them over the past several years. After the story was published, another four women came forward with similar charges. 

I deliberately use the term “physically assaulted” rather than “groped” (the term that most newspapers used when reporting the incidents) for a reason. “Groped” has a sort of teenage-boy-snicker sound to it, a sort of “yeah, the girls might have squealed but they really liked it” feel. “Assault,” on the other hand, is the legal term used when someone puts their hands on you without permission (its close cousin, “battery,” is used when that assault leads to physical harm). And that’s what the 15 women accused Mr. Schwarzenegger of doing. Not of being boorish. Of breaking the law. 

Immediately after the charges against Mr. Schwarzenegger surfaced, my conservative friends accused my liberal friends of “hypocrisy” because—according to the argument—liberal Democrats were castigating Mr. Schwarzenegger for the same activity that they, the liberal Democrats, so recently excused in the former President Clinton. 

This type of thinking must have been filed under the “It Happened To Women And It Had Something To Do With Sex, So It Must All Be The Same” category. 

As far as I can tell from the public record—and the public record here is more extensive than one might desire—Mr. Clinton was never accused of putting his hands on a woman who did not so desire. Mr. Schwarzenegger was, and is. The difference is enormous. This does not mean that Mr. Clinton was not wrong. It merely means that Mr. Schwarzenegger—if he did, indeed, do the things of which he stands accused—was wronger. 

I can understand (while not agreeing with) why so many of my conservative friends chose not to listen to the charges about Schwarzenegger before the election. After all, if conservatives stood up and took the charges seriously and believed them, it left these conservatives with a difficult choice. If they went ahead and voted for Schwarzenegger, they would have to admit—to themselves in the privacy of the ballot booth, if not to the public—that all this loud, chest-beating self-righteousness they have subjected the nation to on moral issues these past few years has been so much blown smoke. On the other hand, if they followed their consciences and moral compasses and didn’t vote for Schwarzenegger, conservatives risked leaving the state in the hands of either Gray Davis or Cruz Bustamante (lagging in the polls, Tom McClintock could probably not pulled it out under any circumstances). So just say that it’s all a liberal plot or a Gray Davis dirty trick. But the election is now over, and we have no more excuses. 

For Californians of all political persuasions, the questions now hang: did our governor-elect assault 15 women and, if he did, do we think that’s okay? 

As the father of four daughters, I’m especially interested in the answer.