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The Good Austrian

How has Governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger shown surprising global leadership?

March 2, 2007

How has Governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger shown surprising global leadership?

In modern history, Austria — that Alpine Republic of 8.2 million people in the heart of Europe — has had a hard time with certain of its major people exports. First, there was Adolf Hitler, an Austrian, who rose to become Nazi Germany's leader only after one of Germany's smaller states — Braunschweig — had made him a German citizen.

Then, there was Kurt Waldheim, the two-term UN Secretary General whose tenure from 1972 to 1981 was marred by revelations about his Nazi past.

But with the 2007 Oscars behind us, and at a time when the movie screens are featuring both "The Good Shepherd" and George Clooney's "The Good German," it is high time to recognize that Austria, at long last, does have a most impressive people export to claim as its own.

A man with true global influence, part artist, part realist and part businessman. A path breaker who has left his long-time detractors in the dust — and a man whose mission it seems to be to make plain common sense.

The "Good Austrian" is none other than Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Governor of California. He is the head of a state that effectively constitutes the world's sixth-largest economy. Its GDP of $1.6 trillion (as of 2005) is 5.5 times larger than Austria's GDP of $294.5 billion.

In the knack of Ronald Reagan, the fortieth President of the United States and former governor of California, Schwarzenegger has made a career out of being belittled and underestimated. Few of those who know his Terminator movies (and his body-building career) are aware that the man also earned his business degree and an honorary doctorate from the University of Wisconsin-Superior along the way — and became a savvy real estate investor even before he embarked on his lucrative movie career.

So what really qualifies this man to be considered "The Good Austrian"? This is just one powerful example: In an amazing U-turn, considering his original hyper-Republican limited government preferences, he has committed his state to a CO2 emissions plan that has teeth. That move put California, once again, on the vanguard of global environmental reform initiatives.

One can say that Schwarzenegger looked the evil of government, bureaucrats and girlie men in the eye and discovered something important: that government regulation has its purposes — not to shackle people, but to help them have a brighter, cleaner, socially fairer future.

In addition to his environmental moves, this Good Austrian has also launched a healthcare initiative in California that, for the first time in a sizable part of the United States, will make health care a basic human right.

Unlike most of the Democratic governors pursuing a similar agenda, he is not limiting his move to guaranteeing health care for children only. His plan even includes health care coverage for illegal immigrants, without which any plan in California (and increasingly in much of the United States) just wouldn't work.

So why are these moves of global significance? Simple. At a time when much of the world has lost its long-held belief in the United States as a shining example of a can-do nation that can pragmatically look real social problems in the eye, roll up the shirtsleeves and get cracking, Schwarzenegger's moves show that not all hope is lost.

His environmental reforms, for example, are closely aligned with the moves under way in the European Union and Japan, which has led some wisecracks to argue that Schwarzenegger's California will be able to form a strategic alliance on the environment with the EU and the Japanese government before he will be able to convince Washington.

The important point to the Gubernator himself is that his policies make plain business sense. U.S. corporations are tripping over their own feet constantly having to deal with a highly ineffective smorgasbord of 50 different environmental policies at the state level.

Not to mention the 50 different fuel compositions and so on — and all that inefficiency just because the federal government prefers to put its head in the sand — instead of coming up with nation-wide regulations.

Being from Central Europe, and mindful of its treacherous history, Schwarzenegger recognizes the potentially disastrous effects of every little state having its own policies. That is what marred Europe's political and economic geography through the 19th century — and greatly held back its economic development.

With California as his core asset, Governor Schwarzenegger has rightfully decided that it is high time to part with the constant attempts of others in the United States, incomprehensibly, to import just this sort of European mincemeat and torched earth politics of a bygone era.

But he has also learned from the Japanese and Chinese governments, as was proven by his initiative last year to increase California's state debt via bond issues in order to provide his state with a traffic and education infrastructure worthy of the 21st century.

All of which leaves one final question: How far can the Good Austrian take his Arnie show? Unfortunately, it is here where he finds significant limits to his future potential. Under the U.S. Constitution, his birth in Thal, Austria on July 30, 1947 is a pock mark that will keep him from following Ronald Reagan as a role model.

Under Article II, Section I of the U.S. Constitution, he is not eligible to toss his hat into the ring — and join the fray of presidential candidates.

A possible constitutional amendment, with its requirement for a two-thirds majority among the states, won't happen in time — if ever. That is regrettable for three reasons: First, as it stands, just about everyone else seems to be running for the highest office in the land. Why not Schwarzenegger?

Second, excluding people from being considered for the office due to the "disgrace" of their birth location is profoundly un-American considering that the distinguishing criterion of the United States is that of the world's most successful immigrant nation ever.

And finally, as Barack Obama does not tire to claim, this is the time for bridge-builders, people who can transcend narrow political boundaries and extreme political divisiveness — which is exactly what Schwarzenegger achieved in California

Too bad, the Good Austrian can never do what many Americans yearn for — just get the job done. In this movie involving 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, alas, Arnold Schwarzenegger cannot use his trademark line. He won't be back, ever.