Mrs. Terminator’s Revenge

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Politics is such a foul business. Payoffs, paybacks. Look at the price the Republican governor of the Democratic state of California says he had to pay for endorsing George W. Bush at the Republican convention last month.

Arnold Schwarzenegger was batting cleanup as the final speaker at the Panetta Institute’s lecture series in Seaside, Calif., on Monday evening. Leon Panetta, the Clinton White House chief of staff for whom the institute is named, asked Schwarzenegger in front of, oh, about 1,000 people what Schwarzenegger’s wife, Maria Shriver, the California Kennedy, thought of his convention speech.

For the record:

12:00 a.m. Oct. 25, 2004 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Monday October 25, 2004 Home Edition California Part B Page 11 Editorial Pages Desk 1 inches; 41 words Type of Material: Correction
Patt Morrison’s column -- In Wednesday’s column, the playwright Aristophanes was incorrectly said to have written 16 centuries ago. He is believed to have been born in about 450 BC, which means that he lived and wrote roughly 24 centuries ago.

“Well,” the governor said, “there was no sex for 14 days.”

Man! And you thought Tom “The Hammer” DeLay was an enforcer!

“Everything,” the governor added, with fine deadpan, “comes with side effects.”


You don’t have to raise your hands, but be honest: How many of you out there read this and thought to yourselves: Two weeks without sex? Is he serious? I’m supposed to feel sorry for him? I’d be happy to get that much action. (There are some folks whose spouses would wreak better revenge by hiding the remote control.)

But then again, the couple have been married for more than 17 years and the Journal of Sex Research notes that couples in their age group engage six or seven times a month. (A British study estimates it at once every two weeks, but that’s the “No sex please, we’re British” British.)

What was Arnold thinking? If you believe as I do that Schwarzenegger never blurts out anything impulsively, you have to wonder: Was he mocking his macho he-man image, playing the henpecked action hero? Did he go golfing earlier that day with Panetta and Clint Eastwood -- who was in the front row -- and test the line for laughs?

Or was he underscoring what he told the foreign press corps not long ago -- that he had learned his lesson about groping women (without confessing he’d ever done it in the first place)?

Maybe he was subliminally pleading for a marital truce. The convention’s been over for, what, six weeks? On Monday night, Schwarzenegger was at pains to praise his wife’s smarts. For a good conversation between a Republican and a brainy liberal, “I’d just take my wife out to dinner.”

I called the governor’s office to gauge just how much of this was serious, and for purposes of social science, was this fortnightly boycott a major interruption or a simple brownout, in electricity-supply terms?

I asked in the spirit of my colleague George Skelton, who once heard Ronald Reagan tell young people in booze rehab that they should take care of their bodies so they could, well, enjoy “a lot of things” later in life. George asked Reagan about his sex life. “This,” said Reagan, reminding him of the Jimmy Carter lust-in-his-heart Playboy remark, “is a subject I think I’ll stay away from.”

The governor’s office didn’t call me back, so I’ll have to make the case for both sides.

For Schwarzenegger: Time magazine cited a Welsh study showing that men who had sex at least twice a week had half as many heart attacks as men who messed around less than once a month. A study of Scottish men found that more sex translated into a longer life. Honey, don’t you want me to live?

For Shriver: About 16 centuries ago, Aristophanes wrote “Lysistrata,” a play about women who pledged “no peace, no sex” to get their husbands to stop warring. It worked then, and it’s worked since.

The American Repertory Theatre’s website includes a link to an article about a few Aristophanes imitators: In Colombia in 1997, the chief of the Colombian army appealed to the wives and girlfriends of guerrillas and drug traffickers to just say no, until their men just said “we give up.” A short cease-fire ensued.

In Turkey in 2001, when women who had complained for years about not having a water supply went on a bed strike, a new pipeline was suddenly forthcoming.

Don’t forget Poland -- in 1992 a new prime minister re-criminalized abortion in a country where contraception was almost impossible to get. Afraid of getting pregnant, Polish women practiced abstinence, and the backlash helped to elect a more open-minded government.

Sex therapist Joy Davidson noted in the Seattle Times last year that women in particular may resort to denying sex as a form of punishment or power play. So maybe this would have been Shriver’s strongest argument: If Bush wins, the country will have to live with him for the next four years -- and you’ll have to live with me.