Hillary and Arnold

Why did we subtitle this chapter about Hillary Clinton and Arnold Schwarzenegger? Because each has become an icon for our times, and represents much that is good, and even more that is bad, about the state of being a man in the early 21st century, and the relationships between men and women.

Hillary is, supposedly, a champion of feminism. Yet she did not divorce a husband who has a history of lying, serial adultery, sexual harassment and, perhaps, rape. Her decision to stay with Bill has far less to do with loyalty – she once belittled the hit song “Stand By Your Man – and far more to do with political opportunism. Hillary is really a champion of the idea that the ends justify the means, that complete hypocrisy is acceptable if the end result is great power. Prior to her husband being elected to the presidency, she never held elective office and unlike, say, Margaret Thatcher, one can make a good argument that this great feminist would never have become a major political figure without her cheating husband. She hopes to become President of the United States.

In many ways, Arnold Schwarzenegger is a legitimate model for the American dream. Starting with nothing in Austria, he worked incredibly hard to become a bodybuilding champion, turning his physique into a work of art. Leveraging his fame as a bodybuilder and conquering his accent, he became a movie star, and, along the way, an astute businessman and investor. He grabbed the governorship of California, using the same self-promotional skills that have served him so well during his long and remarkably ascendant career. With his remarkable physique, sexual prowess, immigrant made good story, and action hero movie star background, one might be forgiven for thinking that he represents the model American male. Constitutional constraints not forgotten, he hopes to become President of the United States.

While Hillary, Democratic feminist, and Arnold, Republican He-man, would appear to be opposites in many respects, they really have quite a bit in common. They are both examples of the modern victory of image over substance, and master career builders. For Hillary, her husband’s political career was a platform for her Senate, and then presidential campaign; for Arnold, bodybuilding was the platform to his movie career, and then to his Governorship. On both cases, as is so often the case, the key to political power was the victory of marketing over substance.

For all their success, they leave much to be desired, and a major point of this book is that modern men have very few legitimate role models: On the surface very different, Hillary and Arnold really represent many of the same things, and are icons of a culture which seems to present two alternatives for men, neither of them attractive; one is the superficially sensitive male; politically correct and liberal, this kind of man represents the new, or feminized, version of manhood, and would most likely vote for Hillary and the Democrats. For these men, the term “gentleman” represents something rather archaic.

Arnold represents the more traditional male, with traditional values, valuing action over introspection, more traditional gender roles; for these men, the word gentleman is just as archaic. These men would be more likely to vote for Arnold and the Republicans.

So what’s wrong with the current two choices, and their respective icons. Hillary’s business dealings have often been suspect, and her husband is the role model for all the things that any good feminist must detest. Rather than going it alone as a true feminist, she has relied on a lying, cheating husband for her power base and political partner. And, in fact, Bill Clinton is much like Arnold – both are uber ambitious men who treat women as playthings that happen to be available along the path to power. Clinton smiles and gladhands, and harasses and cheats, and all this could be equally said about Arnold.

Arnold’s ex wife, Maria Shriver Kennedy, a Democrat and a Catholic, seems to have little in common with her Republican, libertine husband. But if you look more closely, you see that what they have in common is what really matters in today’s culture: Shriver is the a member of the clan known for its toleration of boorish male promiscuity; Shriver also tolerated her husband’s infidelity (until an illegitimate child made it impossible to ignore), because in the world of Arnold and Hillary, the public goals – fame, power, and wealth – are far more important than any private virtues. So Bill cheats and Hillary tolerates it because she wants to be President and she needs Bill to achieve that; Arnold cheats and Shriver tolerates it, because in her family cheating just goes with the territory, and political power comes first. Both Hillary and Arnold have a deep seated need to be adored by the masses; with Hillary, that need has always come through politics – with Arnold, the path has been more varied, beginning with the adulation of bodybuilding buffs, then movie fans, and, now as the ultimate actor, the politician.

Every aspect of both the Arnold and Hillary stories are permeated with hypocrisy. Arnold first made his mark in the world of bodybuilding, where he was lauded as the super male, super sexual – a world where heterosexual predatory behavior was the ideal. But bodybuilding in Arnold’s day was dominated by homosexuals; many of the elite male bodybuilders at the time when Arnold was starting out paid by the bills by turning tricks for wealthy gay admirers.

So what’s wrong with the Hillary/Arnold dichotomy? Mainly that it doesn’t provide for a third alternative – manly behavior that reflects the reality of modern times and the reality of the differences between men and women. Men don’t have to be touchy-feely or politically correct to be genuinely thoughtful and sensitive to others. They don’t have to promiscuously hug to be warm people. They don’t have to be politically liberal to be treat women as equals, to let sexuality be a private matter between consenting adults, or to be open to learning from different cultures. They don’t have to keep a scorecard to have a healthy sexual life. They don’t need to be macho to be manly men. And mostly, in stark contrast to the strivings of Hillary, Arnold, et al, they don’t have to be rich or famous, or live their lives in public, to matter.

The most likely candidate for the title of gentleman is neither rich nor famous, but an unassuming middle-aged man who is a good husband and father, moderately well-dressed, courteous to all regardless of wealth or social station, and quietly confident in his strong convictions.

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