Actor, comedian and television host Tom Arnold is a native of Iowa and has carved out a place for himself in film and television, playing a variety of roles. His credits include starring in TV’s “Roseanne” and “The Jackie Thomas Show,” as well as in the box-office hits “True Lies” and “Nine Months.” In 2000, Arnold added television host to his list of accomplishments, appearing on the Fox Sports Network’s “Best Damn Sports Show Period.” For five years, he served as one of the show’s talking heads, adding his own humorous approach to sports news and interviews. After leaving the show in 2005, Arnold received strong reviews for two film projects released that year. He appeared in the dramatic comedy “Happy Endings” with Maggie Gyllenhaal and Jason Ritter and starred in and wrote “The Kid & I.” Arnold recently appeared in the inspirational drama “Pride” and has several more films on tap.
ROBIN BRONK: If you had five minutes in the Oval Office with President Obama, what would you discuss with him? What issue would you like him to know about?
TOM ARNOLD: First I would thank him. No matter what your politics, he’s doing the best he can at the hardest job in the world. I would love to make him smile, so I would briefly discuss sports (he’s a White Sox fan; I’m a Cubs man).
The issue I’d bring up is Drug Courts. I appreciate that he understands addiction and has helped fund the U.S. Drug Courts, which allow a second chance for first-time, non-violent drug offenders. It saves the country hundreds of millions of dollars because the people who can go 365 days drug-free and working are allowed to “graduate” and re-enter society without a black mark on their record. I can tell you that the actual graduations, led by wonderful judges from Compton to Georgetown, are as emotional for the families as the birth of a child. They’ve got their dad, mom, sister or brother back and they’ve got them back better than they ever were.
I’d thank the president for acknowledging that drug and alcohol addiction is a disease that affects the whole family, and the ones that grab on to that second chance can turn into law-abiding, taxpaying leaders in our communities instead of just a number in a taxpayer-financed, overcrowded prison where the opportunity to reform is limited.
RB: If you could give President Obama one piece of advice, what would that be?
TA: Being a friend of the governor of California [Arnold Schwarzenegger] has given me insight into what it’s like to be “on” 24/7 — what it’s like to have people judge you based on the political party you register as. To have the press constantly take potshots at you; to have to bite your lip when others don’t see there’s an obvious method to your madness … which is to make things work for everyone equally.
I would tell the president to make sure he continues to be the husband and father he is. To trust his family and friends but to be careful of being isolated from the common man. Because of security issues and the nature of the job, its natural course is isolation, and when that happens, you make mistakes. I believe that Joe Biden is the perfect VP for that part of the job, but he still needs friends who aren’t in politics. Who aren’t yes-men. Who give him a jab every now and then (and in Arnold’s case, he’s got a pretty good right cross and gives as good as he gets).
To me, the president’s main job is to protect us so we can sleep at night. That’s a big one. When people criticize the president for not being emotional enough or Arnold for being funny, they forget that both men have attended funerals for the families of fallen heroes they’ve sent into battle … then THEY have to sleep.
RB: If you could ask President Obama one question, what would that be?
TA: What’s the one thing all Americans could do to make this economy better?
RB: Would you ever consider a political career?
TA: I’ve dreamed of being governor of Iowa, but every governor of Iowa I’ve told that to has said, “Please, talk to me first.” It takes a special person to go into politics. Especially for the right reasons. I like shaking hands but don’t like asking for support (money).
Although, because of my charities and the business I’m in, I should be used to it. The pay is far below what they’d make in the private sector (Arnold makes $1 per year, and “True Lies 2” would’ve made him $50 million … full disclosure: It would’ve made me a lot of money too). I always remind Arnold, “Before you ran for office, EVERYBODY loved you (on my first USO trip to Afghanistan, we went into a thousand-year-old mud home — no electricity, so no TV, and the only thing on the wall was a very old poster of a very young Arnold flexing … true story) and as soon as you announce you’re running, HALF the people automatically dislike you and last week your approval rating was 22 percent (which is only 21 percent higher than MINE); but he doesn’t let that bother him. He enjoys the small victories and when people underestimate him. He’d tell you he loves the job, and I think he believes that. He’d tell you he’s never felt stronger himself or stronger about California’s future, but I can see the stress (he’d never admit it, but it does age you. He has to dye his hair orange TWICE a week now). On the rare times we talk politics, he always says the same thing: “EVERYTHING (including Maria) I have is because of America. I think I can make a difference beyond my charities, so I do it. I owe it to California” (personally, I think he owes California “True Lies 2,” but that’s not going to happen so I just follow in his wake, help when I can because — and don’t tell him I said this — because we’re manly men; I admire him. The guy’s my hero and he’s about 95 percent right, which is a way higher batting average than me. And most remarkable of all, that 5 percent when he’s wrong … he admits it. Asks forgiveness. Makes amends and moves onto the next crisis, dinner with the wife, lunch with the kids or motorcycle ride with the boys. He’s found balance, but don’t make the mistake of thinking he’s got his eye off the ball — “making California whole, for maybe the first time”).
There will be a new governor in January, and I don’t know what Arnold will do next, but I do know it will involve making life better, healthier for people. Especially young people, and I will be right behind him, riding his coattails, script in hand.
Bronk is a seasoned Capitol Hill strategist and advocate. She started her career at The Creative Coalition, a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy group for the arts and entertainment industry, in July 1998. During her tenure as CEO, Bronk has taken The Creative Coalition from a New York-based entity to a national organization. www.thecreativecoalition.org