Austria Loves “Arnie”

Austria is where Arnold Schwarzenegger originally came from (born there in 1947, in Thal-bei-Graz). And, from a review of Austrian coverage of Arnold’s election victory, it seems the country has gone wild about its favorite son, popularly known there as simply “Arnie.” A review of that coverage is in order – but please realize that, since I don’t ordinarily treat Austria, I have but an imperfect idea of the newspapers I should cover here.

As you probably have noticed, I generally cover the national press, not the regional press; and I generally cover the “broadsheets” rather than the “tabloids.” (These terms refer to the physical format of a newspaper – whether you read it with the long side vertical or horizontal, respectively – but they also have come to mean “respected, mainstream publication” and “pandering to the crowd,” respectively.) It was easy to find a webpage with the Austrian newspapers, but it was not clear which of those satisfied my criteria. If there are any Österreichers out there who can help me along, by telling me which other Austrian newspapers I should have included but didn’t, or perhaps which of the ones I did choose that I shouldn’t have, I’d be mighty grateful. And I’ll be prepared for that “next time” – say, when an Austrian is elected EU Council President (if the draft Constitution proposing that new office ever gets off the ground).

As with the French press, the challenge here is to find coverage that adds something new to the blanket recitation of facts about the recall election that you’d be able to find anyway in the English-language press. Turning first to the Kurier, only two articles stand out in this regard.

One is a decent bit of analysis on the problems that “Arnie” faces now, now that he has won: Herculean Assignment for Arnie. He’s got to do something about the big state deficit, currently at $8 billion is, but which could go up to $20 billion if a lawsuit against the issuing of state bonds succeeds; he’s got to submit a budget to the legislature by January, and two-thirds of the legislators have to approve it for it to pass. He’s hampered by the fact that California now has the worst credit-rating among all the states; he’s got to attract jobs back that are now going to Arizona and Nevada, and elsewhere (spurred along by the measure Gray Davis had passed and signed, which requires all California businesses over a certain size to provide health insurance for their employees).

To do this, he’s got to work with the Democrats – this despite California Democratic Party spokesman Bob Mulholland being quoted by the Kurier as warning Schwarzenegger that he will be subject to recall himself, if he doesn’t make any progress within the next 100 days. Of course, he married into that arch-Democratic family, the Kennedys, and the Kurier makes the rather facile assumption that, because he’s so closely associated with the Kennedys, he’ll get along fine with the Democrats. In any case, President Bush and the nationwide Republican Party will be watching him anxiously; if he does succeed, he can count on being drafted as a Zugpferd, or “draft horse” to energize Bush’s campaign for re-election in 2004.

Then there’s the Kurier’s local-angle story on Austrian tourism, specifically tourism to the Styria region of Austria where Arnold is from, and how it’s expected to benefit from his political fortunes. The article is entitled Styria Rejoices over Gain for Image. “Arnie is our best advertiser,” exults Herman Schützenhöfer of the Styria Tourist Council. Why, in the past days the word “Styria” (together with variations) has been used a full 3,437 times in the international press and on the Internet. “This free PR-effect,” adds Schützenhöfer, “is worth more than any costly ad campaign, since it places Styria in the middle of the world’s attention as an attractive, safe land.”

Moving to Der Standard, the lead story, An Hour of Triumph in LA, advises Arnold not to put too much trust in Gray Davis’ assurances of assistance during the transition; the recalled governor has used the last few weeks to pack key state offices with his own hand-picked appointees, “in order to make life difficult for Governor Schwarzenegger.” This article also places far too much reliance on Arnold’s marriage to Maria Shriver as a guarantee that he will be able to deal with the state Democrats.

But Der Standard also weighs in with some good analysis pieces. One such, by Eric Frey, is entitled A Sickness Called Arnold. (Click on the “Kommentar” link in the column to the right.) “Sickness”? Well, yes, but it’s a nationwide sickness: the steadfast refusal by American voters to pay more taxes. Frey points out that Schwarzenegger’s apparent fiscal plan – lower taxes, provide more services, and still somehow solve the gaping budget deficit – closely resembles the plan that President Bush has succeeded in implementing since his 2001 inauguration. (In Bush’s case, though, those additional services were mostly of the security or military variety.) The key thing is that Bush can do this – for a while, at least – while Governor Schwarzenegger will not be able to, since California (like 48 of the other states) has to balance its budget yearly. Yet raising taxes seems to be out of the question; Schwarzenegger sharply rebuked his adviser Warren Buffet early in the campaign for making that suggestion and, anyway, according to Frey, California is still the land that brought about the national tax-revolt with the passage of Proposition 13 back in 1978.

Then there is the commentary piece contributed by Peter Pilz, who is the security spokesman for the Austrian Green Party: Grinning instead of Knowing, Posing instead of Self-Control. Even more than Herr Frey, Herr Pilz sure knows how to ruin the party mood. As his article’s title implies, to Pilz American politics has become all about appearances, rather than reality. “Whoever preens and shines has won half the battle right there. Whoever instead tries to address California’s problems of the collapse of the energy sector, the polluted water, the exploding unemployment, and the out-of-control immigration, whoever thereby troubles the fortresses of luxury with life’s daily problems, is out.”

In any case, as an Austrian Pilz asks himself whether the sort of upward mobility and acceptance of immigrants that California has shown could ever really take hold in his own country. Could someone born in Turkey, say, ever become a regional governor. No: “[Wolfgang] Schüssel [Austrian premier] and [Jörg] Haider [famous far-right Austrian politician, governor of Carinthia province] want to rejoice in Arnie, even while they continue to exclude the Arnies [coming] out of Ankara and Pristina.”

Please refrain from referring to Pilz as “Peter Putz” – although his name does mean in English “Peter Mushroom.”

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