International Papers

Arnold: American Dream or Nightmare?

“And America is the country that stomps around the world demanding other countries adopt the same political system as its own? No wonder it is taking so long to set up elections in Iraq.” So began an op-ed in Britain’s Independent after Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Tuesday night California recall election victory. Elsewhere in the paper, an editorial said that “even by the bizarre standards of American elective politics,” Schwarzenegger’s victory “is a strange event.” El País of Spain claimed, “California’s electoral process confirms the inconsistencies of American democracy revealed in the presidential election of 2000,” and Russia’s Nezavisnaya Gazeta sniffed, “Hollywood actor Schwarzenegger’s victory over a professional governor has once again showed the defective nature of the American electoral system.”

The Independent found the recall mechanism an “undesirable” arrangement: It “is profoundly anti-democratic and militates against the strong but unpopular action that governments have to take from time to time.” The Financial Times also opposed the recall process, declaring: “The procedure was intended as a safeguard to remove the most incorrigibly corrupt, not as a tool to create permanent political revolution. Its use now will only further entrench the triumph of politics over good governance. California has constructed a political system that leaves its elected officials beholden to the vagaries of instant political gratification.” The editorial said it would have been possible to swallow doubts about the process if it had produced an exceptional leader, but Schwarzenegger is not that man, “[T]here can surely be few less palatable candidates for the office of governor. It is not simply his scary past that should trouble voters but the arrogant refusal to discuss the future in anything other than bland generalities.”

Some papers had little faith in Californian voters’ ability to distinguish between the actor and the roles he played. Uganda’s New Vision said voters “were voting for the Terminator, the legend they had seen on the cinema screen.” Mlada Fronta Dnes of the Czech Republic said they “chose a good actor rather than a bad politician, because there is at least a chance that he will learn the role,” while Britain’s Daily Mirror just took a swipe: “[H]is lack of political experience was never going to be a handicap in winning the election. After all, his lack of acting skills didn’t hold him back.” An op-ed in the Times of London found Schwarzenegger’s background “extremely relevant”: Hollywood “is the world’s most ruthless meritocracy. It is the Harvard Business School of showmanship and, unlike Washington, it is brutally honest about the primacy in American public life of looks and style over facts and substance.”

The Australian saw the election as a demonstration of “the American genius for embracing new ideas and new people.” The editorial concluded, “Australians too easily dismiss the achievements of famous political outsiders who achieve high office in the US—and too readily mock self-made individuals who break the stranglehold of the political machines.”