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The Question Lesley Stahl Didn't Ask

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I too watched the 60 Minutes segment last night with Lesley Stahl and Arnold Schwarzenegger, although in my case, I watched in vain, since my question was the one Ms. Stahl most pointedly didn't ask.

She asked about how he felt -- a lot about how he felt -- she asked about remorse, she asked about other affairs, none of which concern me in the slightest. As the interview rolled on, with Ms. Stahl raising her eyebrows ever higher -- "I am shocked!" -- I found myself thinking less "investigative journalism" than evasion, and in the end she didn't ask the key question.

But I will: What do you call a sexual relationship when the woman can't say no? When the woman is an underling -- not just an employee but a foreign one who absolutely cannot afford to quit? To get a job for Arnold Schwarzenegger was that housekeeper's version of the corner office. And when he comes to your back room around midnight, what happens if you say no? What really happens? How long til you're on the street?

So do we call it rape? A case can be made, but since there didn't seem to be violence involved, I am willing to just stay with "Master/slave." And what kind of man allows himself that kind of relationship? Do we care if he "felt remorse"?

I don't -- but I do care that he was permitted to be elected governor of the State of California. Because I consider him morally unfit. And now we come to Ms. Shriver's role in the affair.

I remember the accusations -- the waitresses coming forward with story after story of truly crude gropings. Women -- sixteen, in fact -- claiming he grabbed their breasts as they were carrying trays of food. Ha, ha, Arnie, good for a laugh, especially when there was Maria backing you up, with her heart and soul -- those women didn't know him, she insisted. She did.

But it turns out that those women were the ones who did know him, and that Maria Shriver was the one who didn't. Like a good Kennedy, she rose to the clanging of the political bells, and she was splendid. In fact, she was the one who silenced those women and, I always thought, got him elected.

And maybe he wasn't the worst governor we ever had. There was Reagan, who, for starters, closed the state's mental hospitals and put the word "homeless" into our daily lexicon. But for Schwarzenegger to waltz into the highest office in the state despite credible charges of illegal, immoral and just plain unacceptable behavior toward women, not to mention the profound contempt that both the gropings and the sexual predation on his housekeeper imply, was a real setback for any serious progress for women. That Maria Shriver was herself betrayed, and I would say profoundly, in her own home, is a shock but no real surprise. That Schwarzenegger would actively voice opposition to same-sex marriage but indulge himself in the fun of exercising his executive power to privately marry some of his gay employees is also just another predictable aspect of this kind of hypocrisy.

The message of "no consequences" for the rich and famous is always toxic to a real democracy. When you couple it with the subtext that some people in that democracy -- the waitress who can't afford to lose a paycheck by throwing a loaded tray at you when you grab her breasts. The housekeeper with nowhere to turn when you decide to have your way -- are playthings, are fundamentally lesser, the message gets worse.

When Schwarzenegger was sworn in as governor, Maria Shriver held the Bible. She gave up her own career as a broadcast journalist for that. A loss for her, and for us -- she was a strong voice and a great role model. It has been painful to see her "reap the wind, "as she might have read in that Bible; but by closing her eyes, she, like so many of us before her, was "sowing the whirlwind."

Let's hope that she's had enough, that we all have. At least in this case, the perpetrator is back where he always should have been -- in the public marketplace, where the only vote that matters is what we do with our wallets. Mine, for one, is staying closed.