Arnold Corrected

As the quintessential high-profile event that it was, the Republican National Convention was played out under an unforgiving microscope. Any and all of the supposed facts cited and claims made by the speakers who appeared were legitimate material for dissection by outside analysts – even those made by the president. One could even say especially those facts cited and claims made by the president, except that it seems that closer attention was deservedly devoted to Georgia Senator Zell Miller’s ultra-rabid anti-Democrat harangue (free registration required). “Deservedly,” because one naturally rushes first to apply falsehood-revealing fumigation to the house that is on the brink of toppling over from termites.

Even rising-star California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger did not get a pass here, though his offences against the truth were rather more trivial. “Offences against the truth”? Well, you may have picked up the references he made in his address to his youth in Austria, inserted to contrast the bad Old World he left for the good Republican New World he entered when he emigrated in 1968. “I saw [Soviet] tanks in the streets”; and “[a]fter the Russians had left, I saw how Austria had become a socialist state.”

This “bad Old World” contrast has now attracted attention and refutation from various quarters. The question as to whether he really could have seen Soviet tanks as a boy in the Austrian province of Styria is the relatively trivial of the two, so I’ll just point to a reference elsewhere (in English) that that was unlikely to be the case. More interesting is the question whether post-war Austria was truly socialist, and that point is addressed in an article by Florian Klenk in no less than the respected German opinion newspaper Die Zeit (Arnie and the Socialists).

Klenk’s reply to Arnold’s “socialism” claim: “Strange. When Arnold Schwarzenegger left Austria in the sixties, the Second Republic [i.e. Austria] had not yet experienced any elected socialist Chancellor. On the contrary: Strict conservative heads-of-government had held sway on Vienna’s Ballhausplatz [which is Austria’s version of, say, Westminster, i.e. the address of the government].” One party had dominated Austrian politics since it was first allowed to have an independent government again, starting in 1955 when the Soviets and all the other occupying powers withdrew from the country, and that was the Österreichische Volkspartei or “Austrian People’s Party,” which Die Zeit characterizes as “christian-social” (note: not “socialist”).


Yes, Austria was a very authoritarian society back then: as Klenk describes things, universities were off-limits to sons and daughters of the working classes, the prisons featured hard labor, and the legal framework made the husband absolute master in the household. It certainly stands to reason that an ambitious young man would find this stifling and want to leave (if the drive to dominate world body-building fits within your definition of “ambition”; why not?). But Arnold spoke of “socialist” and “socialism” up there on the podium, and Die Zeit’s writer is saying it wasn’t like that. The first Chancellor from the Socialist Party did not arrive on the scene until the seventies – and Klenk gives him credit with finally opening up the universities to all, reforming the prisons and family-law, etc.

There you have it: a European correction to a rare European reference tossed out in American political discourse. And Florian Klenk recommends that someone enlighten the Governor about these things – Yo, Arnie! You read my weblog? – before he has another meeting with President Bush, who of course “is said to have enough problems [already] understanding the world.” I admit that it’s possible the Austrian press also put out its own similar refutation somewhere. (But you might be aware that this weblog covers the German press, though not routinely the Austrian) Still, I think we can place confidence in such characterizations of what Austria was really like in its post-war history coming from the next-door country with a similar culture and the same language. (Or some would only say a similar language; but we’re not going to get into such linguistic details here.) As for me, I’m willing to accept Die Zeit’s correction, even despite the nagging fact that Klenk states at the beginning of his piece that Arnold spoke to the convention on Monday night, when in fact it was Tuesday. (Well, the 6-hour time-zone difference is a source of confusion to all of us at one time or another.)

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