Celebrity infects our politics
Leslie Stahl’s face evinces shock as Arnold Schwarzenegger talks about cheating on his wife, Maria Kennedy Shriver, on a CBS “60 Minutes” interview. The former bodybuilder and California governor was sorry that “I inflicted tremendous pain on Maria” – but obviously not very. There was no show of like or dislike for the wife, but the most infuriating response of all – indifference.
Maria knew Arnold was fooling around when they were still “dating.” His marital infidelities, including the tryst with the cleaning woman, are Hollywood commonplaces. And so why would sophisticated people make such a big deal out of Arnold’s doing what his outsized persona was wired to do, which is … whatever he wanted?
The reason is that Maria Shriver is a Kennedy princess. She was not one of those starlet nobodies who claimed during his campaign for governor that Arnold had groped them. Indeed, Maria indignantly attacked their credibility.
“She vouched for your character,” Stahl said, voice rising. “She gave up her television career for you. I mean, wow!” … and so on.
The real story was that Arnold Schwarzenegger had accomplished something unique. He had put a chink in the Kennedy narcissistic armor.
Here was a poor Austrian immigrant, a self-made, maniacally hardworking planner of his destiny, feeling no way inferior in the House of Kennedy. That he was also a darn good progressive governor suggests that the Kennedy connection and name was only a temporary help. (How ironic that his current film is called “The Expendables 2.”) Arnold now has his own name on an academic center, the Schwarzenegger Institute for State and Global Policy at the University of Southern California,
Schwarzenegger knew exactly what personal dish to deliver “60 Minutes.” He has a book to sell. Meanwhile, “60 Minutes” advanced the undemocratic storyline that one doesn’t treat a Kennedy princess like any other dame. Kennedys aren’t like everyone else. That, too, sells.
Next day, the NBC “Today” show handed a hunk of national airtime to a young Kennedy male running for the House from Massachusetts. “Could Another Kennedy Be Headed to Congress?” the headline panted.
If Joe Kennedy III looks familiar, it’s because he’s been styled to resemble the others. I won’t bore you on who his uncles or father was. Age 32, his achievements are modest, but he’s got the teeth and the hair, $2.5 million in his campaign chest and grandmother Ethel by his side.
The “Today” segment does give his Republican rival a brief mention. (Its website misspells his name.) Sean Bielat is a Marine who, like Kennedy, has a degree from Harvard.
“I don’t think (in) any other district in the country people would consider you qualified for this office,” Bielat said in an earlier debate.
(Hard for Bielat, most any Democrat enjoys an advantage in Barney Frank’s congressional district. His or her name doesn’t have to be Kennedy.)
Anyhow, the NBC camera follows young Joe to a house in a Boston suburb. The woman at the door exclaims: “Oh, my God! It’s Joe Kennedy on my front doorstep! Hi!”
Too bad a celebrity-sloshed culture infects our politics – and this comes from one generally in tune with the Kennedy stances on issues. It’s just that churning myths of “royal political families” is not healthy for a democracy.
Perhaps only an outsized Hollywood ego like Schwarzenegger’s could take from the myth rather than enhance it. That he didn’t fire the housemaid who bore him a child is admirable. And the same goes for his response to those implying that one can’t treat a Kennedy princess like other females: a shrug.
Froma Harrop is a columnist for Creators Syndicate.