By Steve Young

From the moment he announced his decision to run for California's highest office on The Tonight Show, Arnold Schwarzenegger had been able to fend off a host of embarrassing accusations - womanizing, harassment, starring in Kindergarten Cop. But the revelation that he fathered a child out of wedlock makes him likely to be the latest in a long line of politicians and celebrities - Edwards, Ensign, Spitzer, Sanford, Gibson, Gingrich, et al. - forced to publicly apologize and atone for their sins.

These mea culpas usually come with excuses for weaknesses of mind, body, and soul. Sometimes they come with tearful pleas for forgiveness. And, of course, they never come more than a second before the TMZ headline.

Public apologies are typically meant to lay the groundwork for the next run for the gold. Newt Gingrich wants to be our next president. Arnold has a Terminator sequel and The Governator, a Saturday morning kiddie cartoon that may now be better suited for the writers of South Park. Tiger Woods would like to shoot par. And Mel Gibson hopes at least one Jew will watch The Beaver.

Former International Monetary Fund head Dominique Strauss-Kahn, meanwhile, is probably awaiting polling on whether an apology is really necessary; he is French, after all.

Unfortunately for all these confirmed or alleged scoundrels, "sorry" plus time doesn't necessarily equal rehabilitation. And public-relations reimaging may only thinly camouflage a man who remains ready to pounce on the next self-gratification opportunity the moment he thinks no one is looking.

They might also try drying out at Betty Ford or offering free groin-kicking lessons to housekeepers. But true transformation does not come from a single act of kindness or a passive two-week stint in rehab. It requires resolve and real, affirmative action - not to erase the wrong, but to replace it with a much larger good.

That doesn't mean that Gibson has to convert or that Milton Street has to become an IRS agent. It means true acceptance of the wrong and discontinuation of the behavior, not momentarily wondering, "How do I get out of this hole I've dug without actually having to get rid of the hole?"

The problem for narcissistic politicians and celebrities is that the first step in recovery is to admit one's powerlessness. And powerlessness is what megalomaniacs fear most. The realization that they are over 60 and no longer likely to play beach-blanket bingo with 22-year-olds can be devastating when you've spent most of your life being told how wonderful you are.

Beyond coming to grips with what a lout you are, it takes being of service - working with those with similar problems, helping victims, becoming a bona fide role model for those who are still impressed with you and your position. Throwing money at the problem is not enough; you have to put some sweat into it. Sometimes the results of your labors may even open your own eyes to the rewards of being a mensch for a change.

Imagine former State Sen. Vince Fumo, for example, writing a book that reveals all the ways rotten public officials can skim taxpayer money, with suggestions on how they could be prevented from doing so again. Fumo spent a lifetime acquiring his expertise; using it for good might not quite balance the books, but it could change the way he's viewed for the rest of his life.

It's been said that an opportunity lies within every problem. And I'm not talking about the kind of opportunity that arises when your spouse is out of town.

Steve Young is the author of "Great Failures of the Extremely Successful." For more information, see www.greatfailure.com.