Arnold survives his coming out

Thursday, Sep 25 2003

Page 2 of 3

Bustamante, who remains under fire for the multiple machinations around his massive campaign fund-raising from Indian casino tribes and public employees, vanished into the night without doing the post-debate press conferences every other candidate did.

While Green Peter Camejo impressed at times with a passionate and knowledgeable advocacy for his agenda of sustainable environmental policies, racial justice and a crackdown on corporate profiteering, it was the other progressive, conservative diva–turned–liberal columnist Arianna Huffington, who got most of the spotlight. And she did this, not surprisingly, by counterposing herself to the star of the show. In so doing, she threw off the most contentious sparks of a contentious debate.

Asked by the moderator how she would balance the budget, Huffington briefly mentioned closing some corporate tax loopholes, said that Republicans only care about sexual morality, decried businesses that defraud the public, then, seemingly apropos of nothing, said, “And one more thing, Arnold, you know you talk about . . .”

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Schwarzenegger¹s head jerked up at the meandering reference to him, “‘Arnold.’ I love it. Arianna, let me say one thing. Your personal income tax has the biggest loophole — I can drive my Hummer through it,” referring to the controversy over her paying less than $1,000 in income tax the past two years.

Though she said she’d read in The New York Times that he would criticize her for this if she attacked him, Huffington was nonetheless angered. The fur ball was on.

Finally, Schwarzenegger was asked how he would balance the budget. A very good question, since his much-criticized answer thus far is that he would conduct an audit of the books, convene his all-star panel of experts and institute a spending cap. In other words, he ain’t saying until after the election.

As Schwarzenegger launched into this perilous recitation, Bustamante foolishly interrupted him, saying that he had voted for a middle-class tax cut. Then Huffington jumped in to say that Schwarzenegger sounded like Bush.

Which prompted Schwarzenegger to tell her, in an obviously planned riposte, that if she wants to campaign against Bush, she should go to New Hampshire (the first presidential-primary state). Whereupon the still-angry Huffington called him “hypocritical.” Prompting Schwarzenegger to needle her, suggesting “a little bit more decaf.”

The debate then moved to the very unpopular increase of the vehicle-license fee, which the other candidates discussed, all agreeing that the increase should be repealed, one way or another. But when Huffington’s turn came, she started talking about fighting the Bush administration, noting the costly repeal of the estate tax, then said, “It’s completely hypocritical of Arnold to come here.”

Schwarzenegger interjected, “Arianna, we’re talking about the car tax right now.”

At which point Huffington stuck her shiv in: “You know, this is completely impolite and we know this is how you treat women.” Calling Huffington’s remark “a direct and personal attack on Mr. Schwarzenegger,” the moderator then stopped the debate and gave the action superstar a moment to respond. “I would like to say that I just realized that I have a perfect part for you in Terminator 4,” Schwarzenegger said with a smile. Indeed, her relentlessness in pursuing him might well make her good casting for a terminally lethal Terminatrix character.

Ironically, so caught up were they in the crossfiring banter of the moment, Huffington and Bustamante failed to realize that Schwarzenegger had never gotten around to saying how he would deal with the budget crisis. Merely the issue on which they and the media have most frequently criticized him, yet they gave him a complete pass without seeming to understand what they were doing.


It’s hard to believe that McClintock lacked the presence of mind to notice, since that is his main issue. But he offered not a peep of protest or criticism. It was all part of a very intriguing performance by the right-wing state senator. During large stretches of the debate, McClintock disappeared. He never confronted or criticized Schwarzenegger, even though the two rivals were sitting right next to each other. No turning to the ex–Mr. Universe with a no-new-taxes pledge to sign, no bringing up his associates’ musings about tax increases, no challenging his liberal social and environmental views, no allusions to the notorious Oui interview, none of that.

After the debate, Huffington made much of the Terminator 4 quip, saying it was an offensive reference to a scene from Terminator 3 in which Schwarzenegger’s character briefly stuffs a female terminator’s head into a toilet shortly before she knocks him through a wall.

Talking with the Weekly late Wednesday night, Huffington, an old friend of the Weekly (named by her in her book How To Overthrow The Government as one of a handful of people influential in the dramatic shift of her thinking from right to left), acknowledged she didn’t know that the quip meant he wanted to shove her face in a toilet. But she was still offended, especially by Schwarzenegger’s interruptions of her, a common practice by Huffington herself in this and other debates. She might also be offended by Bustamante’s sarcastically condescending tone toward her as he repeatedly said, “Yes, Arianna,” in response to her gibes at him. Not that people care as much about the lite guv as they do about the ex–bodybuilder.

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