Following is the account I originally gave in a Blue Voice post of 09/07/06 about a political rally I had attended in Austria; Austrians I know didn't seem to understand why it struck me as so different than national political campaigns in the US:
I did see an actual political event in Graz, the capital of Styria and the hometown of Calfornia Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Schwarzenegger's image was nowhere to be seen in the downtown tourist areas, by the way. And I looked for it. I didn't even see a tourist postcard with his picture on it. Nothing. Not one reference. Which is fine by me.
Last Saturday, the Austrian conservative party (the ÖVP) had its kickoff rally to formally open it's election campaign. The national elections are a month away. Since the the ÖVP is the leading party in the current ruling coalition and has been since early 2000, the Austrian Chancellor, Wolfgang Schüssel, was the featured speaker. Probably not what most tourists look for, I'll admit. But I thought it was pretty cool to be able to see it, even though the ÖVP's policies are distinctly un-cool.
He brought along with him the ÖVP members of his cabinet, including the one that is thought to be a glamorous figure on TV, Karl-Heinz Grasser, the Finance Minister. He is widely thought by female voters to be attractive - including my wife, who got just a few feet from the stage. I suppose he's kind of cute. But after watching him in a TV debate Wednesday night, I've started to refer to him as Herr Minister Yuppietwit.
Also appearing was the Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik, the Defense Minister, the Economics Minister and the Interior Minister (more-or-less the Attorney General in American terms).
The most amazing thing about it to me probably didn't seem unusual to most people there. It was that here was the head of government, appearing in a partisan rally along with some of the most senior members of his government. And, unlike the strictly controlled partisan appearances of Dear Leader Bush, the rally was completely open to the public.
Even an unsympathetic foreigner like me could attend. And the place wasn't crawling with uniformed security personnel or burly guys in dark suits and sunglasses. No sharpshooters visible on the rooftops.
Perhaps most unusual of all in comparison to Dear Leader's approach, there was a protester in the crowd who occasionally shouted out something negative. He was standing about thirty yards from the stage when the Chancellor was speaking. There were two security guards who were standing discreetly to either side of him. But they didn't try to drag him out of the crowd or arrest him or beat him up or anything even when he shouted out dissent against the Chancellor. The head of government was actually allowed to hear one of his voters shouting out criticism!
An amazing thing for those of us who have become acclimatized to the way today's Republican Party handles things.
The speeches themselves weren't especially notable, except again for an American, who couldn't help but notice that the horrible, awful menace to Western Civilization from The Terrorists was not a central theme of the speeches. There was much more talk about health care and employment issues. The Foreign Minister used her few minutes to promote Europe, i.e., supporting the European Union. Chancellor Schüssel and Herr Minister Yuppietwit focused more on stock conservative bromides, like how if we just cut taxes for the wealthy and restrict the opportunities of kids from working-class families to go to college, everything will get better.
There was also quite a bit of patriotic hype about how great Austria is. Though by American standards of over-the-top patriotic and nationalistic rhetoric, it was pretty tame.
In America in 2008, by contrast, a 60-year-old librarian holding a sign that says McCain=Bush is given a ticket and threatened with arrest. The Southern segregationist style of politics is alive and well and being practiced by the Republican Party, even under the leadership of that great Maverick and War Hero McCain.
And what was her actual sin here? Insulting McCain by comparing him to our Dear Leader Bush, Scourge of the Heathen and Liberator of Peoples? Or insulting Dear Leader by comparing him to the War Hero and Great American and Bold Maverick, John "100 Years War" McCain?