Not in words, or not in English ones anyway, but by being the Austrian-born Governor of California himself. Attempting to explain American politics to a German audience that doesn’t really get it, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has himself, unintentionally, offered the best example of what the current excitement about Sarah Palin’s entry into the 2008 presidential campaign is all about.

And at times I am sure that Californians believe they have seen all of this before. In many ways, the McCain campaign of today resembles the Schwarzenegger campaign of 2003. Only for the moment, Sarah Palin is the Terminator at the center of all the attention. She is the next in a long and distinguished line of politicians who come to embody the role of the outsider-reformer promising to clean up government, just like Schwarzenegger did in 2003. She is now the Mrs. Palin Goes to Washington figure who also fearlessly takes on the media and, for now at least, makes them an object of scorn for having taken an all too indelicate look at what the public prefers to see as their next big rising star.

Not unlike Arnold, or to be more exact the Terminator character he played, or ironically enough even Barack Obama himself, Palin too is the next incarnation of the hero out of the blue, the lone rider out of nowhere, the archetypical knight in white armor who seems to be hard-wired into all of our brains somewhere, the one who always arrives to help us when all the others have failed (does that make Obama The Dark Night? Hardy, har, har.). Okay, that was a bit overboard I grant you, but you certainly get my point.  

It is a mysterious and yet very familiar aspect of the American political tradition, this cult-hero worship of ours. And I can see how countries with other traditions have trouble understanding it (although Germany seemed to have no trouble jumping aboard the Obama hysteria bandwagon). As Schwarzenegger mentioned in his interview with Der Spiegel: “The Germans have no idea how someone like Obama can rise within a short period of time . . . as much as they don’t understand that someone like Palin is, you know, all of a sudden accepted and is this huge star.”

In the end it is all quite simple too explain, of course. All too simple, I’m afraid. The bottom line is that America loves celebrity. Where they come from is of less importance, provided they come out of nowhere. But strangely, and perhaps unfortunately for Palin and Obama both, America also loves to see celebrities fall. And sometimes just as much, if not more.

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