Arnold Schwarzenegger is not totally delusional, and his autobiography is not a work of total fiction. But the former governor is making a total fool of himself as he tries to reshape his sullied image.
The 65-year-old former California governor is hawking his book, "Total Recall," by appearing on national television shows, further invading the lives of Maria Shriver, his estranged wife, and their four children, and Mildred Baena, the domestic worker who is the mother of a fifth child by him.
Leslie Stahl, the "60 Minutes" correspondent, pressed him though not hard for details about the affair. He retreated behind his children.
"I don't want to reawaken and kind of talk about it because it's not going help them, and I just want to protect them as much as I can," he told Stahl. Every father wants to protect his children. That must be why Schwarzenegger wrote a book describing family secrets and is selling it on national television shows.
"She was very disappointed," Schwarzenegger told Stahl, recalling the marriage-counseling session in which he confessed to Shriver that he fathered Baena's son.
Disappointed? Disappointed is the reaction when you're late for a dinner date. My guess is that Shriver was beyond disappointed upon learning that the father of her children had fathered the hired help's child.
His television appearances have been disasters. He comes across as feeling sorry for himself, not contrite or ashamed, and in denial. He described the fling as "stupid." Don't be too hard on yourself, Arnold.
A few drops of sweat appear below his nose in the "60 Minutes" segment. But when he's asked about recurring affairs, Schwarzenegger grins slightly and says, "I'm not perfect." Remarkably, he still lives in the family estate. Shriver moved out.
Watching him try to play the part of a family man who made a mistake is squirm-worthy. But the parts of his book that deal with his time as governor are worse.
There are revisions, omissions and outright errors, like the one on page 516 in which he describes Rob Stutzman, his first communications director, as being "another tough Wilson veteran who had been through a thousand fights."
Stutzman was Schwarzenegger's communications director and had been through a thousand political fights. But he never worked for Gov. Pete Wilson. That's picky. But there are other claims that do not comport with reality.
"I often left my office and took the elevator to the upper floors to call on the legislators myself," he and his co-author write. He must not have totally recalled the time he went to a private meeting of Republican lawmakers who wore name tags so that he'd know who they were.
Within two weeks of taking office, he writes, he offered a "sweeping budget reform." He summed up his final year in office: "I persuaded the Legislature to once again adopt a sweeping budget reform measure establishing spending limits and a rainy day fund."
All that sweeping budget reform must explain why Jerry Brown found a $25 billion budget deficit when he took office in 2011.
"Six years of ups and downs forged me as a governor the way Conan was forged by pit fighting and the Wheel of Pain," Schwarzenegger writes.
He understands that Conan and the Wheel of Pain are fiction, doesn't he?
Schwarzenegger's health-care "reform" might have been significant, but it failed to win Senate approval. He tried to change the prison system, but the prison population soared to an all-time high on his watch, 173,400, leading to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling shortly after Brown took office ordering California to slash the prison population.
He signed Assembly Bill 32, a significant measure intended to reduce greenhouse gases. But while the current administration is implementing it, he shows off his latest ride, a Unimog, a diesel-powered monster vehicle that gets 14 miles per gallon at most. Rules don't apply to Schwarzenegger.
He does offer this insight toward the end of his book: "People elected me to solve problems and create a vision for our state, yes, but also they want things to feel different. They wanted a governor and a Governator."
Voters believed his promises and enabled him. People who should know better still enable him. He has used his wealth to persuade the University of Southern California, an otherwise fine university, to establish the Schwarzenegger Institute for State and Global Policy, an oxymoron. He is funding it with $20 million of his and other donors' money, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Schwarzenegger promised to blow up the boxes but inflated his ego instead. He acted and posed and squandered his opportunity to make true change. Now, as he tries to restore his image, he must hope that we have selective recall.