SPIEGEL Interview with California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger: 'Political Campaigns Are Rarely about the Issues'

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger didn't go to the Republican National Convention, but SPIEGEL spoke to him about McCain's new-found conservatism, vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin and whether he's eyeing a job in Washington D.C.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Governor, you were actually supposed to have spoken at the Republican National Convention last week, but you cancelled. Your wifeís cousin, Max Kennedy, joked that you were tired of the Republicans and were going to switch to the Democrats. Is there something to that?

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
REUTERS

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Schwarzenegger: That is wishful thinking from the Kennedy family because I would never become a Democrat. Not in this life, and definitely not in my next life, or the life after that.

SPIEGEL: Still, the convention must have been a disappointment for you. It was a celebration of conservative values rather than bipartisanship as you had hoped.

Schwarzenegger: Thereís no celebration in any convention of bipartisanship because you have the most hard-core individuals. Think about the Republicans from California that are running the party. I have almost no contact with them. None -- because theyíre just so out there. But those are the people that were there. I mean, I would have been there giving a speech, but they wouldnít have wanted that kind of a presentation. The speech I would have given is the one that Fred Thompson gave. I gave him my speech because I did not go to the convention. It was a great speech because it talked in minute detail about McCainís torture and his being a POW, and thatís the speech that the party wanted me to give. Why? Because this way I donít go and talk about centrist politics and maybe rub some people the wrong way. Thatís another stage.

SPIEGEL: Would you have criticized Obama?

Schwarzenegger: In the first place, I never would have mentioned his name because Iím a big believer in never doing that. As a man and a politician, I respect Obama. Itís just that, if I have a choice between the two, Iíd rather go with McCain. But that doesnít mean that I have to say that the other guy is the worst thing on Earth.

SPIEGEL: John McCain is now in favor of off-shore oil drilling, he is in favor of the tax cuts passed by the Bush administration and he has voiced his disapproval of abortion. Has he given in to the conservatives?

Schwarzenegger: That is a totally wrong argument. It would be ludicrous to accuse him of flip-flopping because there are new circumstances and new situations. Twenty years ago, we didnít have an oil crisis. All of a sudden, the gas price hits $4.00 per gallon and everyone is suffering. We see this transfer of wealth going from America to the Middle East. People say, this is unbelievable; we have to do something about that; we should look into oil drilling -- and 57 percent of Americans agree.

SPIEGEL: But you are opposed to oil drilling.

Schwarzenegger: Yes. I oppose off-shore drilling off the coast of California. When I came here in the 1960s and I walked around on the beach, I remember the tar that was stuck to my feet and the dead birds lying around. They always said they would drill in a safe way, and protect wildlife, coastal scenery and all. And the fact is, they didnít. So I donít support off-shore drilling in California, but that doesnít mean that we shouldnít lift the ban on off-shore drilling. But itís up to the states if they want it or not.

SPIEGEL: In Sarah Palin, John McCain has chosen a young, pious, conservative running mate. She believes, for example, that global warming is not caused by human activity. What do you think of her?

Schwarzenegger: You can never find a candidate that will agree with everything you believe. Then you would just have a clone and that doesnít exist. In my own house, my wife Maria and I donít always agree, but Iím still married to her. I think thatís okay. We donít have to agree on everything.

SPIEGEL: Is Sarah Palin a good choice?

Schwarzenegger: For me it was the biggest surprise. Maybe Lieberman would have been a good choice because it really would have been a showing of bipartisanship or post-partisanship. Or Tim Pawlenty. I think Pawlenty is without any doubt the smartest of all of them.

SPIEGEL: Will Sarah Palin find widespread support among women?

Schwarzenegger: She personifies what many women are dreaming of. I think many women idolize her because she has a family and a job as governor. Then there will be women who say "yeah but sheís pro-life, which is a bunch of nonsense." But in her speech at the convention, she did an extraordinary job; sheís a good looking woman, sheís feisty and it was most entertaining to watch. She had 37 million people watching her -- almost as many as Obama during his convention speech. That means that McCain has made a fantastic choice.

SPIEGEL: But sheís still something of a risk.

Schwarzenegger: One never knows if there might not be something else discovered about her life that can be used against her. Her entire life is now being examined. Investigative journalists are looking into her past, looking at her father, her mother, the teachers that she had, her career as a politician. Her entire background is under the microscope.

SPIEGEL: It is a difficult risk for the McCain campaign to gauge, given that the choice of Palin as running mate seems to have been made quite quickly.

Schwarzenegger: Who thinks of everything? Who checks everything? Itís enough if you had someone at some point in your life working at your house that was an illegal immigrant. Iíve never done a check on the people who work in the garden outside to see if they have their documentation, if they have immigration papers. I mean, who does that? Nobody. Some of these things get blown out of proportion. Like the story with Palin and her daughter having a baby. Whereís the story? It could happen to my daughter; it could happen to anyoneís daughter.

SPIEGEL: So far in this campaign, most of the attention has focused on the biographies of the two candidates rather than on the political and economic issues. Does that bother you?

Schwarzenegger: I personally have always felt that political campaigns are very rarely about the issues. When you ask people on the street, who remembers anything that anyone said at the convention? When I would ask my mother when we had presidential races in Austria, she would always say so and so is really nice. Never, ever would she talk about issues. People will remember some funny lines; people will remember some attacks or funny things that happens. But I donít think that people will remember what McCain really said in his convention speech.

SPIEGEL: McCain sometimes makes small mistakes, like for example when he didnít know how many houses he owned when he was asked. How can something like that happen to such an experienced campaigner?

Schwarzenegger: You have to be very careful what you say and he didnít say it well. He must have been tired, but the fact is he didnít have an answer and that generated attention, but it will pass. I donít know how much money Maria has from her family and I can care less. Thatís not on my radar, so to speak.

SPIEGEL: The most sensational thing about this campaign to date has been the rise of Barack Obama, the first African-American to be nominated by his party to be its presidential candidate in US history. Is the country ready for a black president?

Schwarzenegger: I think that America has made a giant leap forward this year. I think itís incredible that a black man has the chance to become president of the United States. When I came to this country, blacks still had to sit in the back of the bus, and when I went to the bar to get a drink, there was still a different section of the bar that was for blacks. I think really thatís the story. America has moved forward in a big way. And women too. Not just Sarah Palin, but Hillary Clinton.

SPIEGEL: Did Obama make a mistake by choosing Joe Biden to be his running mate instead of Hillary Clinton?

Schwarzenegger: I donít think you can say mistake, because it may have been risky to have two on the ticket that Americaís never had. But if you forget about that, Hillary would have been the right choice simply because she got 18 million votes.

SPIEGEL: Could you imagine becoming a cabinet member in a McCain or in an Obama administration?

Schwarzenegger: Yes I could imagine that, but the only thing I cannot imagine is leaving Sacramento and leaving it to someone who would replace me. I have a plan of what I want to accomplish by the time Iím finished and that to me is more important -- fulfilling that dream and that promise -- than taking on any position in Washington.

SPIEGEL: Thank you very much for taking the time to speak with us.

Interview conducted by Marc Hujer

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