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Europe

European Press Review: Has Political Credibility Been Terminated?

Across the Atlantic, many newspapers have been left dumbstruck by Arnold Schwarzenegger's election victory. Once they regained the ability to write, however, opinions were divided.

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Arnold's first attempts at staging a political rally caused concerns within his campaign team

As governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger is going to have to get used to facing a different kind of press every day than the ones that posed daily challenges to the muscle bound movie star down at Gold’s Gym. From bench pressing to pressing the flesh, Schwarzenegger’s almost unfathomable rise to the governor’s mansion has left many European newspapers bewildered.

The French press put itself in the firing line of Arnold’s Uzi 9mm by suggesting that Schwarzenegger’s appointment had terminated Californian democracy. The left-wing Libération called the new governor a populist and a demagogue who is the antithesis of democracy while Le Monde decried that direct democracy had usurped representative democracy. The Californian people don't trust the political establishment anymore, the paper said, and have voted in a personality not a politician. Les Derniers Nouvelles d'Alsace from Strasbourg mocked Schwarzenegger; saying that there was no way that Arnold could have won in good old Europe.

London’s Financial Times was more pragmatic, saying that Schwarzenegger’s populist approach should not be ridiculed and that it was a tried and tested vehicle to victory. Populists are already beating incumbents in France and in the Netherlands, it added and lamented that this was where many western democracies were heading.

In Germany, the Stuttgarter Nachrichten joined the debate by writing that the Germans normally and snobbishly think that their political culture is somehow different from America. Arnold’s ascension could have been fair game for the cynical in the German press but the Stuttgarter stood its ground by saying that German political parties could learn from this recent upset. The paper wrote that German political parties tend to close themselves off to anyone except those in their establishment -- career politicians, civil servants, union leaders, and professors. Germany needs politicians with other kinds of experience, declared the paper, but stopped short of putting forward any celebrities’ names for chancellor.

Praise for the freakish Austrian came in the form of an editorial from the liberal Copenhagen daily Politiken which praised Schwarzenegger’s talents, writing that there appeared to be more to the man than his limited acting abilities have exposed. The paper defends Arnold, a man with a BA degree in Business and Economics and one who seems to be a moderate republican with many liberal values.

The Berner Zeitung from Geneva agreed to a certain extent, writing that anyone who has earned so much money can't be a dummy. The paper lauded the Californians for doing exactly what Arnold’s film fans have always exclaimed: Give him a chance.

In the laid-back Netherlands, De Volkskrant soothed fears by saying that there was no reason to panic. The paper called Schwarzenegger a governor in the tradition of actors-turned-California-politicians Clint Eastwood and Ronald Reagan; men who surprised many by their political actions. And besides, the paper mused, a democracy voted him in – if he screws up, it can vote him out.

Il Messaggero from Rome also compared Arnold to Ronald, but addressed the comparisons with thinly veiled insults. The paper said that both men were B-movie actors who learned to communicate despite their failings, who knew that it was not important to be profound, and that to speak with optimism, good manners, and a good sense of humor could endear them to the people.

The final words came from Schwarzenegger's homeland, Austria. The Kronenzeitung tabloid applauded Arnold's humble victory speech and called his rise a classic example of going from muscle-flexing campaigner to responsible politician. And Der Standard from Vienna attributed Arnold's success to unbelievable energy, single-mindedness, and a dash of luck. The paper congratulated him and placed him in the pantheon of Austrians who have found success abroad. Finally, the paper sang out a line from the Austrian national anthem: "Heimat bist du großer Söhne" roughly translated as "You are the home of great sons!"