Tuesday, September 30, 2008

"Rechtsruck" (shift to the right) in Austria

If it was good enough for George...

Austria's banks aren't making international news in the current world financial meltdown. Yet. Actually, Austrian banks have been pursuing profits in recent years the old-fashioned way: providing regular banking services to people who need them. In particular, they have expanded their regular commercial and retail banking businesses into eastern European countries like Rumania. Austria, despite being a small country, benefits greatly from its historical business ties to eastern Europe going backt to the days of the Habsburg's Austro-Hungarian Empire.

It happens that I'm visiting in Austria at the time it is making international news. Austria and Mississippi have one thing in common when it comes to making world or national-US news. It usually only happens when there is a natural disaster or a political one. (An exception was the good news that a Democrat won a previously Republican Congressional seat in a special election earlier this year.)

Reuters/Yahoo! News provides the colorful headline, Far right surges in Austria vote, instability looms 09/29/08. Back in 1999-2000, the last time an Austrian election generated these sorts of headlines, I was a hardliner in terms of preferring to see a strong diplomatic response from the US and other EU countries.

It turned out that the other EU countries' decision to not invite Austrian diplomats to the normal rounds of dinners and parties for a couple of weeks was strong enough. More importantly, Austria's then-President Thomas Klestil used his authority as the elected President to reject a couple of proposed cabinet ministers who were particularly obnoxious in their uncertain devotion to the Austrian Constitution and the rule of law.

More to follow in a later post on the particulars of the Austrian election, more than probably most American readers care to know. Short version: the "far right" parties in Austria are less radical in their ideologies and more devoted to the rule of law than the Cheney-Bush administration - seriously. Two of the five parties in Parliament are "far right" for real. Our Republicans really are more so.

But one aspect of this election genuinely surprised me. Obviously I haven't been following the Austrian news as closely as I would like to, because I hadn't heard this before last week. In the national parliamentary elections held this past Sunday, 16-year-olds were able to vote for the first time. No, that's not a typo, that's 16, one-six.

Now, my circle of Austrian and German acquaintances is not especially conservative. But everyone older than teenaged that I've heard talk about this so far is shocked at the thought that 16-year-olds can vote!

I'm shocked, too. Shocked, I tell you, shocked! I mean, how can anyone expect mere 16-year-olds to exercise the mature, sensible political judgment that adults like Rush Limbaugh, Shaun Hannity and Bill O'Reilly exhibit on a daily basis? I mean, what 16-year old could make an analysis, or even understand an analysis, like one of our leading columnists, Maureen Dowd, displays in the New York Times twice weekly? (Zeus knows, I sure don't understand it.)

Now that I think about it a bit, I think that no one under 30 should be allowed to vote. And, hey, requiring voters to own at least $100,000 in property would be a good idea, too. Because why should people who don't have a financial stake in their country and communities be allowed to vote? It's well known that the richer you are, the more sound your judgment is. That's why investment bankers, hedge fund managers and mortgage lenders are the most prudent, sensible, responsible people you can find.

And who was it anyway that came up with this notion that women should be able to vote? Come to think of it, Austria recognized women's right to vote (1918) before the United States did, too. It was just after the socialists took over in a revolution. So there you see what a commie subversive idea that whole thing was.

I mean, if "one family, one vote" was good enough for George and Martha Washington, why isn't it good enough for us? Everybody knows that women get all impulsive because of, you know, hormones and stuff. But take a sober wealthy CEO white guy like Dick Cheney, or a sturdy-jawed manly-man like John McCain, who could imagine them ever making impulsive or reckless decisions?

So far, though, none of my Austrian friends and relatives that I make these arguments to seem to be convinced. I don't get it. I guess it's true what they say: In Austria, the clocks really do tick differently.

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