The L.A. Times reports that former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has acknowledged paternity of a child born to a staff member for his family. From Schwarzenegger's statement:
"After leaving the governor's office I told my wife about this event, which occurred over a decade ago," Schwarzenegger said Monday night in a statement issued to The Times in response to questions. "I understand and deserve the feelings of anger and disappointment among my friends and family. There are no excuses and I take full responsibility for the hurt I have caused. I have apologized to Maria, my children and my family. I am truly sorry."
The Times did not name the staff member but quotes her:
She said she voluntarily left her position with the couple earlier this year after reaching a longstanding goal of working for them for two decades. "I wanted to achieve my 20 years, then I asked to retire," she said, adding she received a severance payment and "left on good terms with them."
The Times recaps the timeline of the announcement of the Schwarzenegger-Shriver split:
Schwarzenegger took financial responsibility for the child from the start and continued to provide support, according to a source who declined to be identified because of the former governor's request for privacy.
The former first couple of California announced their separation in a joint statement issued last week. The two have been married 25 years. There was no mention of a cause for the separation.
As a long-time Arnold watcher, this sort of revelation is not exactly surprising. In his bodybuilding heyday, he had long been known for raucous behavior and Spy magazine did a long piece years ago on his activity on Hollywood sets.
While this story doesn't raise the same sort of legal issues as the charges against Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the International Monetary Fund head accused of rape, it does raise questions about the intersection of private life and public office. As the Times notes in passing, Maria Shriver was a particularly visible and active First Lady of California and her dismissal of sexual harassment charges by more than a dozen women against her husband played a pivotal role in keeping his candidacy on track. Would she have done so had she known about his love child? Would she have still been married to him, thus helping him politically?
I think anyone's heart goes out especially to the kids involved (adults, all things being equal, can deal with things). But this story raises questions about politicians' personal lives–especially when they use their family members as stage props in their campaigns. It isn't right that a politician necessarily be held politically accountable for whether or not his or her kids turn out OK or even better than OK. But when drug warriors such as Al Gore make sure that their kids' drug problems are kept out of the papers, or when characters such as Newt Gingrich run on hyper-moralistic platforms that conflate personal values and political ones, someone needs to call bullshit. I don't think that Schwarzenegger having fathered an out-of-wedlock child means he was necessarily a bad governor, any more than Rep. Dan Burton's (R-Ind.) policy legacy rests upon his personal life, but I do think politicians of all persuasions would do well to stop using their families and private lives as props in public. It doesn't merely invite scrutiny, it demands it. Which in the end may have little to say about whether an elected official is going to be good or bad for a particular office.