During the 2004 Republican National Convention, Arnold Schwarzenegger stood at a lectern at Madison Square Garden in New York, speaking about what it means to him to be a Republican.
The then-California governor addressed “my fellow immigrants, my fellow Americans,” and posed a question: “How do you know if you are a Republican?”
“If you believe that government should be accountable to the people, not the people to the government, then you are a Republican,” he told the crowd. “If you believe that a person should be treated as an individual, not as a member of an interest group, then you are a Republican. If you believe that your family knows how to spend your money better than the government does, then you are a Republican.”
He went on.
“Now, there’s another way you can tell you’re a Republican,” he said.
"You have faith in free enterprise, faith in the resourcefulness of the American people and faith in the U.S. economy. And to those critics who are so pessimistic about our economy, I say: Don’t be economic girly men.”
It wasn’t the first time that Schwarzenegger used the term “girly men” to refer to political opponents, but now, more than a decade later, he says he regrets it.
“At the time it felt like the right thing to do. It was in my gut. I improvised it. I called them girly men because they weren’t willing to take risks,” he said in an interview published Wednesday in Men’s Health magazine.
“They were afraid of everything,” he added. “Politicians in general want to do little things so there’s no risk involved. But it was shortsighted. In the long term, it’s better to not say that, because you want to work with them.”
The phrase “girly men” had been previously used by the actor-turned-politician and also appeared in a “Saturday Night Live” skit in which comedians Dana Carvey and Kevin Nealon played Schwarzenegger-like bodybuilders named Hans and Franz. In fact, before Schwarzenegger said it at the 2004 Republican National Convention, he used it at a political rally.
In the summer of 2004, Schwarzenegger called Democrats “girly men” and urged voters to “terminate” them on Election Day — prompting outrage from his opponents, the Los Angeles Times reported at the time.
“I don’t know what the definition of ‘girly man’ is. As opposed to his being a he-man?” then-California State Senate President Pro Tem John Burton told the Times.
“He says he’s going to ‘terminate’ members in November?” Fabian Nunez, the speaker of the California State Assembly at the time, told the newspaper. “I really don’t know what he means by that. That’s not funny anymore.”
In his recent interview with Men’s Health magazine, Schwarzenegger suggested his language had been counterproductive.
"When you can reach out across the aisle and work together, you can get much more accomplished, rather than ‘girly men’ . . . or ‘it’s my way or the highway,’ ” he said.