There is sexual infidelity and there is sexual harassment. The two behaviors are not the same. The first is an abuse of trust, the second an abuse of power. Arnold Schwarzenegger has admitted to both.
When he first ran for governor of California in the 2003 campaign to recall Gov. Gray Davis, Schwarzenegger was dogged by allegations of sexual harassment — of having groped more than a dozen women over the years who did not want his attention and who were humiliated and angered. During the campaign, he vaguely admitted to "behaving badly" and said that if there were people out there whom he had offended, he was sorry. It may have helped him politically to say that, but what may have helped even more was his wife's staunch defense of him. In an address to a conservative women's group shortly after the allegations were published in The Times, Maria Shriver said in a steely voice that "you can listen to people who have never met Arnold or who met him for five seconds 30 years ago. Or you can listen to me." The voters elected him in a landslide.
Now Schwarzenegger is apologizing again for his behavior — this time, to his wife. According to a report in Tuesday's Times, Shriver left her husband earlier this year after finding out he had fathered a child more than a decade ago with another woman — a household staffer who retired from the couple's employ in January. It turns out that even Shriver didn't know everything about her husband. (If she had known at the time of the harassment allegations, maybe she would have made the same speech to voters. Who knows?)
Some may consider Schwarzenegger's affair with the longtime household staffer irrelevant or private; after all, extramarital affairs are not necessarily the world's business, and the cheater in this case is no longer an elected official. Others may counter that even if it was a consensual relationship, it was an entirely inappropriate one because the woman in question relied on Schwarzenegger for her paycheck. The woman herself declined to comment Monday on the former governor's confession.
As for Shriver, she will no doubt be looked at by some as another in a long list of political wives who stood up for a husband whose personal behavior seems indefensible. And some will criticize her for that. But mostly, people will feel compassion for a woman whose life has been upended, whose children must be suffering and whose private crisis has become intensely public.
As a former politician and a celebrity who wants to resume an acting career, this is a crossroads for Schwarzenegger. So far, his best behavior appears to have been in supporting the child he fathered and in making a straightforward public admission of the facts (although only after he was questioned on the subject by reporters). Whatever happens next, we hope he conducts himself with honesty and integrity, which appear to have been lacking in much of his behavior over the last few decades.