Sunday, October 12, 2003

Churchill, chasing a quote, and Arnold’s character
Back in August I linked to Martha Bridegam's Demisemiblog where she was trying to track down the provenance of this quote credited to Arnold Schwarzenegger by a number of sources:
My relationship to power and authority is that I'm all for it. People need somebody to watch over them and tell them what to do. Ninety-five percent of the people in the world need to be told what to do and how to behave.

My thought at the time was that it was a pretty shocking quote and almost too perfect in its ability to confirm all of the worst suspicions and stereotypes of liberals about the lumpy Austrian bodybuilder.

Bridegam found the quote in an Australian academic article on body image. That source cited a 1995 book, also on body image. From there she traced it to 1990 U.S. News and World Report profile of Arnold. The U.S. News piece simply credited it as “he once explained.” From there the trail seemed to go cold. That’s pretty good research. When I was teaching history I would have given any student who pursued a quote like that a good grade (when I was a student I loved to write that kind of paper).

At he time, I was content to be lazy and use Bridegam's work as a “if this is true” departure point for my comments. Well, she wasn’t content to call it good enough. She tried to contact the U.S. News reporter, but received no answer. When the admiration of Hitler story broke the week before the election, Bridegam found this familiar phrase in the news:
I think we can't live without authority. There's a certain amount of people meant to be leaders, and to control, and another large amount, 95 percent, are followers. We have to tell (them) what to do and how to keep in order, you know?

This version is from the San Francisco Chronicle quoting Inside Edition quoting the outtakes from Arnold’s first movie Pumping Iron. These are the same outtakes that Schwarzenegger paid 1.2 million dollars to buy up in 1991. These are the same outtakes that contain the admiration for Hitler quotes.

So, is this the original source for the quote? Maybe yes, maybe no. This morning I started reading my New York Times and stumbled across this in Frank Rich’s column:
Mr. Schwarzenegger's credo was laid out quite specifically in his autobiography, Arnold: The Education of a Bodybuilder: "A certain amount of people are meant to be in control. Ninety-five percent of the people have to be told what to do, have to be given orders."

This philosophy, which he has repeated elsewhere and never retracted, sums up his politics far more than conventional conservative-vs.-liberal, Republican-vs.-Democrat paradigms.

This is not exactly same as either of the above versions. So what gives?

One of my favorite Churchill quotes runs something like “a dangled preposition is something up with which I will not put.” I’ve tried to look up the exact context and phrasing of this quote a number of times and found a half-dozen authoritative answers. Churchill was a first-rate speaker and writer. He was a journalist before he entered politics. Churchill knew a good line when he heard one. It’s most likely that having uttered this line once he liked it and used it over and over again. We all do that.

Schwarzenegger probably used his power gag in exactly the same way. Arnold Schwarzenegger has spent his entire adult life playing a fictional character named Arnold Schwarzenegger. Unfortunately for him, this character has changed over time. The early Arnold—bodybuilder turned actor—needed to occasionally say something outrageous to keep people’s attention. To say that the masses need a firm hand worked perfectly for that role. He got the right reaction the first time he used, so he reused it, in conversation, on film, and in print. The later Arnold—actor turned politician—needs to sound responsible and now needs to explain the old Arnold away.

But to say it was a cynical line chosen for effect doesn’t mean I think it was insincere. Schwarzenegger clearly likes power. His oafish and bullying frat/jock behavior over the years wasn’t all clowning for the audience. Winning the election doesn’t give him a get-out-of-jail-free card for his past behavior. He’s on probation and he’s going to be living under a microscope for a long time to come.

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