By Debra J. Saunders
Arnold Schwarzenegger comes across a lot better in his memoirs, “Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story,” than he did during a “60 Minutes” TV interview broadcast Sunday night.
His book chronicles all the amazing things he has done. The “60 Minutes” interview shone a light on what the bodybuilder-turned-actor-turned-politician should not have done. On camera, Schwarzenegger does not seem to regret how thoroughly he betrayed wife Maria Shriver.
There’s a lesson for everyone in the book on how to get ahead. Growing up in an austere Austria, he dreamed big. He wanted to be Mr. Universe. He wanted to become an American actor. He wanted to be rich. Check. Check. Check. And more.
“Selling was one of my favorite things,” the former Mr. Olympia explains. And selling is everything for him.
It helped that Schwarzenegger didn’t know what he had to do to get there. “Don’t tell me any more of this information,” he said about a business deal. “I like to always wander in like a puppy. I walk into a problem and then figure out what the problem really is.”
Sounds like Schwarzenegger’s run for governor of California, doesn’t it?
Schwarzenegger admits that he sponsored Proposition 49, a 2002 ballot measure that funded after-school programs, to raise his political profile in case he wanted to run for governor later. He peddled budgeting by initiative, a brand that sells with voters and then plagues Sacramento ever after.
Once in office, thanks to the 2003 California recall, the newly minted Governator crowed, “I don’t want to move boxes around; I want to blow them up.”
The boxes didn’t get blown up. He did.
To his credit, Schwarzenegger, a Republican, worked all-out to court state lawmakers from both parties. When his efforts failed, he went over their heads to the people, with ballot initiatives.
When voters rejected four such measures in 2005, Schwarzenegger wrote, “I had only myself to blame.” He had asked too much of the voters. His outsize image and big talk had overinflated the public’s expectations. But Sacramento’s entrenched public employee unions also had outplayed him, outspent him and won.
After that blow, how could a man not inured to losing win re-election? His new political guru, Steve Schmidt, advised, “Be humble.”
Schwarzenegger replied, “I can play that role perfectly.”
Well, not on “60 Minutes.”
Schwarzenegger’s 2005 mea culpa to the voters worked because he seemed remorseful for overreaching. When Lesley Stahl asked Schwarzenegger on “60 Minutes” about his marital infidelities, including the out-of-wedlock child with the family’s housekeeper, he seemed, well, proud. “I’m not perfect,” he purred.
Viewers got a hard look at a cruel streak. Schwarzenegger and the housekeeper brought their innocent child to spend time at the family home with his unwitting wife and their four unknowing children. This betrayal will last a lifetime.
“Total Recall” reminds readers about what they always liked about Ah-nold. He’s charming. He’s funny. He has pluck. He tells a good story as he passes on some of the best advice thrown his way in the course of his unbelievable true life. He says he takes responsibility for his mistakes and then confidently shrugs them off. Part of you wishes you could be like that, if but for one minute.
But Schwarzenegger does not mention his most craven act in office — his out-the-door commutation of a prison sentence for a crony’s son, who had pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter. Schwarzenegger cut the sentence to seven years from 16.
At the time, Fred Santos, the father of victim Luis Dos Santos, 22, told me the departing governor knew it was “a bad move.” That’s why he did it “in a very sneaky way,” he said.
I see why Schwarzenegger left that stain out of the book. He could hardly confess to it with mock remorse but a glint in his eye.
Debra J. Saunders is a San Francisco Chronicle columnist. Her email address is email@example.com