SPIEGEL Interview with Californian Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger 'We Should Be Saying: Keep the Luxury Car'
California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has re-invented himself as an environmentalist battling against climate change. SPIEGEL spoke with him about luxury cars, the Iraq War, and why his opponents are 'girly men.'
Arnie has taken on global warming.
Schwarzenegger: I regularly buy and sell cars, but I do not buy and sell fleets.
SPIEGEL: So you still own your Hummers? Is that really the right car for someone who wants to protect the environment?
Schwarzenegger: These are no ordinary Hummers. I had General Motors customize one of them into a hydrogen Hummer. It's the only Hummer in the world with that motor. I had another converted from diesel to biofuel. But now that I am governor, I am no longer able to drive these cars because I am driven by the California Highway Patrol. My Hummers are usually in the garage.
SPIEGEL: Is it not an odd compromise to transform an energy-wasting Hummer into an environmentally friendly car? Wouldn't it be easier for you to just go out and buy a smaller car?
Schwarzenegger: Not at all. The message I am trying to get across is exactly this: Protecting the environment does not require us to be against large SUVs or trucks. Instead we should develop technology to cut down greenhouse gas emissions because that is where the action is -- it's not about what the size of the car is. We just have to redo the vehicles.
SPIEGEL: So is it the new California Dream to do good without having to eschew luxury? Is it possible to be wasteful and conservationist at the same time?
Schwarzenegger: Yes, it's fantastic. A short while ago, our office became the first in the country to receive the first BMW luxury 7 series hydrogen car. BMW made 100 of them and they gave them to 100 opinion-makers, stars and people with high visibility. When those people drive around it again sells the idea that it is cool to drive a hydrogen car. But that doesn't mean that you should take this big car and make it smaller. Instead we should be saying: "Keep the luxury car!"
SPIEGEL: So as long as the economy doesn't become a victim of the environment, you will continue to be comfortable being called the "Green Governor"?
SPIEGEL: You're not the only person in America who has gone green. Other people, including Al Gore, also identify themselves with the issue. Has global warming become a political fad?
Schwarzenegger: I think the momentum is gigantic. It reminds me of my bodybuilding days. At first, bodybuilding was relatively unknown, but we promoted the sport and it spread like wildfire. When you travel around the world today, you never have to look far for a gym like in the old days. If you ask, people say, "Of course, the hotel has one."
SPIEGEL: What sparked this new sense of environmental consciousness? Was it high gas prices and the recognition that America is dependent on Middle East energy supplies?
Schwarzenegger: We do not like the fact that we must rely on fossil fuels. This dependence is a huge mistake. It's as bad as having an investor who only invests in a single product or company. You have to diversify. You have to invest in 30 different companies because that is the only way you can guarantee that your investment will grow. We have not done that with our energy.
SPIEGEL: Former Vice President Al Gore just received an Oscar for his documentary film "An Inconvenient Truth." Aren't you afraid he might steal the limelight from you?
Schwarzenegger: I don't think so. The most interesting thing politically is that Republicans are now supporting environmental protection. We've always expected nothing less from the Democrats. As a Republican, people expected me to protect the oil companies and business. Now they are surprised that I talk about greenhouse gases. But it's true that the documentary has now given Gore tremendous legitimacy. California is now passing new environmental laws that Gore was actually talking about 20 years ago. He was right, but people called him a tree hugger because he's a Democrat.
SPIEGEL: Quite a comeback for Al Gore. Do you think he might even run for president again?
Schwarzenegger: He may wait a little bit to see how it plays out with the others; Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. It could very well be that he joins the race.
SPIEGEL: But won't climate change play more of a secondary role behind the war in Iraq in the 2008 campaign?
Schwarzenegger: I don't know. Right now Iraq is a big issue. But in politics things change so quickly you can never count on anything. When I became governor, we had budget problems. That's different now. I hope it will be the same with the Iraq War. I hope that it is not the issue that every candidate always gets asked about, but that they also talk about infrastructure in the United States, about health care, immigration and the other important issues facing us.
SPIEGEL: Ever since John F. Kennedy was president, Hollywood has been an important part of presidential campaigns. What role will Hollywood play in this election?
Schwarzenegger: Hollywood always plays a huge role. Hollywood has a lot of money. Candidates get more money from Hollywood than anywhere else. But this time it will be split between a number of different candidates. Producers Steven Spielberg and David Geffen are doing fundraisers for Barack Obama, other groups will be doing fundraisers for Hillary Clinton and still others will be doing them for John Edwards. Hollywood is split this time.
SPIEGEL: Traditionally, California only comes out in support of a candidate later in the campaign -- often when it has already been decided. What role do you expect California to play in the campaign this time?
Schwarzenegger: A big role. That's why we moved our primary up from June to February. It will change the whole ballgame because California, the biggest state of all, is right there in the beginning. It will make us the most important player in the race.
SPIEGEL: You have talked a lot about a new era of bipartisanship, of blind party loyalty being passé. Would you go so far as to endorse a Democrat?
Schwarzenegger: No, because we have great candidates who are running. They are simply good and they are very much in the political center, especially Rudy Giuliani and John McCain.
SPIEGEL: What will be the decisive factor in the election?
Schwarzenegger: We have to watch both the Republican and Democratic candidates and see who is most willing to cross the aisle and work with the other party. This is the most important thing.
SPIEGEL: Do you think the country is fed up with partisanship?
Schwarzenegger: Unbelievably fed up.
In Septemeber, Schwarzenegger signed a law putting a cap on the emissions of greenhouse gases in California.
Schwarzenegger: I changed my mind, yes. But I did not call anyone "girly men" because they wanted to compromise. I called them "girly men" because they didn't want to make the decisions that were right for California.
SPIEGEL: You also picked a fight with some of the most powerful lobby groups in the state. You said you wanted to kick their butts."
Schwarzenegger: Was it the right thing? No. I should have put more effort in negotiating instead of accusing them of all kinds of things. My tone was a tone of confrontation and was wrong. If you really want to accomplish things, that is not the way to go.
SPIEGEL: Back then, your approval ratings fell dramatically - down from 60 to 30 percent. You had to change course to survive politically.
Schwarzenegger: Politics is not really different from marriage. You cannot get things done in your relationship if you tell your wife: Look, if you haven't made the bed and if you don't get the food on the table, I will go and just hire someone and you will become irrelevant. That is not how you make a marriage work.
SPIEGEL: Has the United States entered into a post-Bush era in which an unwavering ideological line is seen more as a vice than a virtue?
Schwarzenegger: I'm not sure things are that simple with Bush. When he was still governor of Texas, he ran his state in the most bipartisan of ways. I do not know why it has gone so differently Washington. I think Washington just does something to people.
SPIEGEL: When you were there recently, you strongly challenged President Bush. You said he should make more compromises and talk nice with the Democrats.
Schwarzenegger: I did not challenge him -- that is not the right word. I gave him some suggestions about what he should do. It is very clear that we have to work together in order to do a good job. What is really hurting the country is the way they are governing in Washington at the moment.
SPIEGEL: For a long time, you were a proponent of the Iraq war. Now you're in favor of a gradual withdrawal of the troops. Wouldn't the United States be giving up its influence in the region by withdrawing?
Schwarzenegger: You change your positions as things change. I had different information from the president. I only get the information that Washington shares with us and that is broadcast in the media. It seemed clear at the time that Iraq was sheltering terrorists. Saddam Hussein's regime was a dictatorship that cost a lot of lives. There was good justification to invade, especially after 9/11.
SPIEGEL: Now you have called for an end to the war.
Schwarzenegger: That's right. Four years later, we have to look at it and ask if Iraq is becoming another Vietnam, and I do not want it to become another Vietnam. I think we have now helped the Iraqi government long enough. We have trained their soldiers. We have done everything that we can, so now let's talk about a timeline of withdrawal.
SPIEGEL: Do you have a specific timeline for withdrawal in mind?
Schwarzenegger: I raised that issue at the White House and it was made clear to me that there might be a plan like this but they would never even talk about that because they do not want to signal to the other side what the plan is. We should have an end in sight for this war. It costs a fortune and it costs a lot of lives.
SPIEGEL: One of your duties is to write letters of condolence to the families of soldiers killed in Iraq. Have you ever attended a funeral?
Schwarzenegger: I go to funerals for firefighters, police officers, law enforcement officials, but I have never been to the funeral of a dead soldier.
SPIEGEL: Why not?
Schwarzenegger: There are just too many.
SPIEGEL: How many?
Schwarzenegger: A few hundred. It has been a big loss.
SPIEGEL: There was a time when a so-called Lex Schwarzenegger was being worked on, namely a new law that would give American citizens who were not been born in the United States the right to become president. Why didn't that work out?
Schwarzenegger: I think that eventually it will be changed, but it will take a while. Maybe 10 or 20 years down the line it will benefit not me but someone else. It must be part of a comprehensive immigration reform.
SPIEGEL: Would you like to be part of the next government, say as secretary of state?
Schwarzenegger: I have no thoughts about that because I think 24 hours a day about this job that I have.
SPIEGEL: That's what they all say.
Schwarzenegger: I never like to think more than just a few days ahead. The reason I chose to come to the US is because there is no safety net here. I chose making movies over doing TV series because I didn't want to know what my next move would be. I like the idea of the risk -- if a movie goes in the toilet then you get no new offers. If the movie does well, then you have 15 scripts in front of you. I always feel that if you pay 100 percent attention to what you are doing then you have every option available in the future. These things fall into place. I have total faith in my future.
SPIEGEL: How come?
Schwarzenegger: When I was 15 years old I felt totally confident I would become a world champion and the greatest bodybuilder in the world. The same was true of show business -- I knew that one day I would make more money than anyone else in the industry and I did. For that you need the willingness to work and do everything it takes to make the vision turn into reality. Those are the kinds of things that you also need in politics. There are thousands of experts here in Sacramento, but at the end of the day, it's all about taking something on and seeing it through to the end. That's the perfect job for me.
SPIEGEL: Mr. Governor, we thank you for this interview.
Interview conducted by Marc Hujer and Gerhard Spörl.