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The Tragedy of Arnold Schwarzenegger

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Photo courtesy TriStar/courtesy Everett Collection

A look at the peaks and valleys of one of Hollywood's biggest stars.

If I could ask Arnold Schwarzenegger one question it would be: How does it feel to know that you will never be elected President? I would ask this because throughout his recently published autobiography there is an overwhelming – and there is no other way to describe it — musk redolent of unending ambition mixed in with the stench of desiccated beef liver supplements. From the mean streets of Thal, Austria to Venice Beach to the Hollywood A-List to the Governor’s mansion in Sacramento, Arnold’s relentless drive, his monstrous ambition, has always veered upwards, against the wind, towards the direction of the highest job in the greatest power on the planet. Arnold, quite frankly, was born to run for President. Since inaugurating the phenomenon now known as celebrity politics, it was widely suspected that Arnold would make a run for the White House.

In the best of all possible action film influenced worlds, Arnold Schwarzenegger would either be President, or he’d be in the final throes of articulating a full blown rationale for 2016. In reality, however, Arnold’s political career is essentially over. Why is this thus? What is the meaning of this thusness?

The relationship and lovechild with his maid (so terribly cliché) notwithstanding, Arnold’s political career was terminated – again, no other way to describe it — by his inability to solve California’s deficit. Arnold ran as a moderate, a centrist, a problem solver; he was going to be our daddy. California, let’s face it, needed a steady hand and a stern talking to, instead Arnold was the indulgent father. Had Schwarzenegger solved California’s biggest problem, he would have had a cakewalk to the nomination in 2012. He would have been greeted at the convention hall with flowers and chocolates. And life said “ha.” Instead of being greeted as the conquering hero in Washington, ass dragging, Arnold is headed back to Hollywood, to an industry he formally left, this time cast as the aging action hero.

But as much as I want to dislike Arnold, the raw honesty and simplicity expressed in his autobiography makes him hard to hate. He is, after all, a man’s man. Bodybuilding, real estate, action movies – Arnold is not a man of complicated emotions, he is not a Hamlet. There is something oddly refreshing about that, his lack of introspection, his lack of shame, his simplistic drive to achieve, his – once again, no other way to describe it — will to power. In order to fully appreciate the psychological richness of a Stanley Kubrick or a Prince, there has to be an Arnold Schwarzenegger. The universe makes them in all shapes and sizes.

One of my favorite lines in Total Recall, and one that is most telling about the man, involved an economics professor Arnold had when he arrived in America. Arnold, all drive, took – what else? – Business courses at community college. There is only so far that one can go as a professional bodybuilder. In true Arnold fashion, he noticed that his economics professor drove a half-assed car. Even in the description one could whiff the future governator’s disapproval. Schwarzenegger slyly noted that he drove a better car than his professor, and, further, that a professor of economics should be driving a Mercedes caliber vehicle, anything else would cast aspersions on the grasp of the subject matter to which he professes!  In that one acid anecdote lies the whole of Arnold – the practicality, the simple wisdom and the projection of power in a dangerous world.

Lawrence Leamer in The Daily Beast observers, “Schwarzenegger is a man of monumental ambition who sometimes plans his crucial moves years in advance.” I don’t doubt that at for a minute. Everything in his autobiography is honest, upbeat and wholly free of shame. His trajectory – from Austria to the governor’s mansion in Sacramento – is upward in trajectory. That is why the tragedy of Arnold Schwarzenegger is so poignant. Arnold will never be president of the United States and for a personality like his that has got to smart (and what prompted me to ask my introductory question). But should his fallback be an inglorious to return to the world of film, a cosmos that he so thoroughly has already conquered? It just seems like such a letdown.

What would Rainier Wolfcastle do?

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