Tuesday, July 29, 2003

The mind behind Schwarzenegger's muscle

For the real scoop on Arnold Schwarzenegger, turn off the TV and head to the library. Although he'll announce his decision on a gubernatorial run on Wednesday's "Tonight Show," his best-selling books reveal the strategies that influence his decision-making -- and may give a better clue to his political intentions.

"The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding" and "Arnold: The Education of a Bodybuilder" cover more than the physique. They also cover "the most powerful tool": the mind. Between discussions of dumbbells and biceps, Schwarzenegger explains his reliance on plans, analyses and psychological warfare, and he describes their application to business and acting.

They apply to politics, too. Schwarzenegger never mentions public office, but in advising Mr. Olympia contestants to accept that every judge has a bias, he demonstrates pragmatism: "Politics are simply the way human beings get together and regulate their behavior and the behavior of the institutions in which they are involved. . . . Politics are a fact of life." In California, it is a fact of life that a tax-cut message alone attracts insufficient support, so Schwarzenegger stresses compassion. At the Proposition 13 Silver Anniversary Gala, he criticized the budget not only because "taxpayers are facing an increase," but also because "teachers are getting pink slips [and] cops are getting laid off." Such pragmatism makes him electable.

On the other hand, it could make him reluctant to enter an unprecedented race. Though some analysts argue that a short campaign favors Schwarzenegger, a chaotic election might expose his political inexperience. If he wins, he must face the fallout from budget wrangling over the $38 billion deficit and a Democratic-led Legislature amid high expectations. These considerations suggest that he might wait until at least 2006.

But as his outline on effective training strategies shows, Schwarzenegger may have no problems taking a pass: "You need to choose the right time and place to do battle. . . . You need to be confident of your battle tactics, know when to attack, when to withdraw, and how to conserve ammunition."

With only the campaign for after-school programs (Proposition 49) under his belt, Schwarzenegger may consider himself a political lightweight and thus unprepared for the election. If so, he will pave the way for Richard Riordan: "At whatever level you're competing, realizing that certain contests may be over your head and choosing one that you have a better chance of winning is no disgrace -- just good sense."

Schwarzenegger may have other reasons to endorse Riordan, including the latter's 6 percent edge among likely voters. Either way, the alliance bears significant advantages. "I was a strong believer in training partners," says Schwarzenegger. "I needed someone not only to teach me but to inspire me. I trained better, harder, if I was around someone whose enthusiasm was as strong as mine and who would be impressed by my enthusiasm." Today, Schwarzenegger coordinates with -- and may even offer his consultants to -- Riordan.

Because he believes that a partnership "becomes a marriage," Schwarzenegger may rely even more on his wife, Maria Shriver, who has a unique understanding of media and politics. As a journalist, she has seen the scrutiny of politicians. As a member of the Kennedy family, she has witnessed both the glory and the tragedy of power. She has also helped Schwarzenegger plot his movie career, so she knows the kind of roles that suit him best.

Whether Schwarzenegger will run remains to be seen, but his decision will surely reflect his belief that "winning can become a habit if you handle your career properly." To doubters he has one thing to say: "I can use the information and discipline I learned in bodybuilding for perfecting other aspects of my life."