Arnold Schwarzenegger’s return to the front pages, five months after stepping down as California’s governor, prompts several thoughts. First among them is the genius of the nation’s framers in requiring that the president of the United States be native born. It was not all that long ago that pundits were predicting passage of a constitutional amendment repealing the requirement so that Arnold could become the nation’s first immigrant president and the Republican Party’s latest hope. This was the second time in my lifetime that the nation dodged such a bullet. A generation earlier, New York Democratic Rep. Jonathan Bingham urged such a change to clear the path for Henry Kissinger. (Anyone following the GOP pre-nomination contest to date can sympathize with the party’s feeling that it need import new talent.)
The second thought was that Schwarzenegger’s admission to having fathered a child with one of his servants, his keeping it secret from his wife, and the demise of his marriage will trigger but another cycle of media naval gazing as to how deeply to probe into the private lives of public figures and what kind of media attention or scrutiny their families merit and under what circumstances. Arnold Schwarzenegger and his wife Maria Shriver have issued separate statements requesting that their privacy and, especially that of their children, be respected. One hopes their wish is granted; it is difficult to see how it will be, given that Schwarzenegger is much a media creation, that his wife is a public figure, and that her Kennedy and Shriver relatives have been at the center of one of the longest running media sagas in history. (Item: As the story of the Schwarzenegger’s separation was breaking, the May issue of Details magazine had on its cover a teaser claiming to introduce “the latest Kennedy heartthrob.” Inside appears a four-page article/interview with Arnold and Maria’s seventeen year-old son Patrick.) [Check out a roundup of this month's best political cartoons.]
Thoughts next turned to the progeny of Schwarzenegger’s now-confessed liaison. The New York Times reports that the son the family maid bore him is approximately 14 years of age. He cannot be having a good week. In recent days, he has heard his father refer to his conception and birth as an “event” and a “mistake” and may have read or watched the media attribute the breakup of a storybook, celebrity marriage to his existence.
Finally, there is Maria Shriver. How can one help but empathize with her? In a reversal of what some ardent feminists would have had her do, Maria gave up a successful career in television journalism to advance her husband’s political career. She reportedly told him that if he harbored political ambitions, the time to act upon them was the instant California voters recalled the then governor, Gray Davis. She then all but elected Arnold, putting her own credibility on the line to fight off accusations of serial groping. She even got her parents, Eunice Kennedy Shriver and husband Sarge, into the act. After her husband took office, Maria emerged as his central policy adviser. Conservative Republicans, in whose ranks Arnold once claimed to belong, cite her influence as the reason for his more moderate.
Now that the two have separated, Maria is in a position to reclaim her own legacy and further her policy goals in her own right and in her own name. And she can do it in any of three states: California where she served as "first lady" for eight years; Maryland, the Shriver family seat; and Massachusetts, where she still spends time and where the Democratic Party of John and Ted Kennedy has all but ossified. [Read 10 things you didn't know about Schwarzenegger.]
Maria received her training in the family business from the classiest of the Kennedy clan. Her mother used her standing as “first sister” to bring the issue of mental health out of the shadows. (The Special Olympics came years later.) Her father may have achieved more in public service than almost any other appointed official in history. (He provided much of the vision behind the Peace Corps, the War on Poverty, Vista, Head Start, and the Job Corps.) Were she to enter politics, Maria would start off with high name recognition, high approval ratings, and sufficient resources. And, like Hillary Clinton, she could start off virtually at the top. She is young enough to go even further. If Alexander Graham Bell was right when he said that every time one door closes, another opens, the Schwarzenegger split-up could be the first line of what may become one of the most absorbing chapters in the Kennedy family history.