Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.
This morning on the Washington Journal (C-SPAN) they had two correspondents from "Die Welt" and from the "German Press Agency" to talk about the German elections. Considering the current election results one remark, which I think most Americans are not aware of, seems now even stranger.

One of the two correspondents said that in comparison to the US the elections in Germany are really just about economics and none of the issues that divide the US, like gun control, death penalty, abortion rights, gay rights are of any importance in German elections, because those issues have been mostly settled in Germany. So the election is just about taxes, pensions, economics etc.

Nevertheless the votes are highly spread out between several third parties aside from being equally divided between the two Volksparteien CDU and SPD.

One wonders why in Germany we have much more and clearer ideological diversity in the parties, but so much fewer social, cultural and ideologically relevant issues we really would have to vote on whereas one doesn't have any diverse party system ideologically speaking in the US but tons of diverse and divisive cultural and social issues Americans vote on with a passion. Shouldn't the US have more diverse parties, as they have much more divisive issues they vote on?

by mimi on Sun Sep 18th, 2005 at 05:58:43 PM EST
I think there is a cultural issue out there which affects German politics...
by MarekNYC on Sun Sep 18th, 2005 at 06:04:18 PM EST
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I don't know if I understand what you mean. The fact that the German women don't produce enough babies? Not an issue you would vote on. No German seems to be concerned about it. What about Inder? Immigration policies? I guess immigration is an issue. I am not in the loop who is for what in Germany. I know who the racists are, though, and those, who are afraid to touch the issue, because they are scared to be viewed as racist, I guess. So, can you explain what you meant and fill me in? Thanks.
by mimi on Sun Sep 18th, 2005 at 08:55:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Kinder statt Inder was an anti-immigration slogan the CDU used in the statewide elections in Northrhine-Westfalia in 2000. The SPD had proposed a package of laws that would make immigration more attractive for highly trained professionals from countries such as India. The idea behind the CDU slogan was to improve education at home instead.

If you can't convince them, confuse them. (Harry S. Truman)
by brainwave on Sun Sep 18th, 2005 at 09:05:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It was an election slogan of the CDU, alluding to the fact that the gov-t invited software specialists from India, to help alleviate a shortage in qualified personnel. Hence this rather nasty slogan, which was stupid, too. I mean, if universities could admit more informatics students in year X, that would mean more home-grown specialists in in year X+5, the earliest. Or, if Germans started producing babies like crazy, I can't see how these babies could become software specialists overnight...

I recall Merkel making a comparably stupid remark about Turkish guest workers having to become knowledgeable in German culture. The big problem is to define German culture: if it is the Great Classics, then many Germans would fall short of the mark. Not to mention that it is simply absurd to tell people what to read, what to listen to, and so on. If G. culture is defined as whatever Germans themselves are reading or consuming, one gets a hopelessly cosmopolitan picture. Hopeless from Merkel's point of view, that is. (Not to mention Turkish intellectuals in Germany, who bring their own stuff into the mix.)

A dog's a dog. A Cat's a Cat. (T.S. Eliot)

by BFA (agnes at ims dot uni-stuttgart dot de) on Sun Sep 18th, 2005 at 09:15:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thank you, BFA. I wasn't aware of that slogan, but it doesn't surprise me, including Merkels comments about Turkish guest workers.

Gastarbeiter "problematization" is something US religious groups invading Germany under the radar are doing quite effectively. I wonder if that is realized by Germans. I did run more than expected into Mormons in the US who did their missions in Germany with an obvious interest in our "immigration problems". I think they do more than their missionary duties would ask them to do, but obviously you can't say that aloud, because it would mean I discriminate against Mormons.

by mimi on Sun Sep 18th, 2005 at 09:49:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Alas, I don't know about Mormons in Germany, but I can ask my colleagues here in Stuttgart (I'm Hungarian and a workaholic, so my 1st hand knowledge of things here is not so good). My impressions about Germans and Turkish guest workers are mixed: I think they don't like them, but on the other hand Turks are becoming better and better integrated, and they are just part of the landscape, period. Germany's favourite fast food joints are all Turkish, for instance. (And they are remarkably secular, they serve alcohol, e.g.)

There is at least one Turkish TV-station, and everywhere you go you see Turkish signs and inscriptions, too.

Even relatively conservative Stuttgart, btw, is incredibly mixed ethnically: Russians and other Slavs, Albanians, Chinese and Koreans, you name it. I think there is also a considerable US presence (with banks, corporations). "Real"  Germans here are slow in accepting for'ners (including Germans from elsewhere), but things improve with time.

Back to your initial observation: it's intriguing that Mormons should seek to discreetly stir up things.
Why would they do that? But I think the presence of immigrants is just a given -- and quite a few Germans can see the benefits of immigration, if only in the form of nice food.

A dog's a dog. A Cat's a Cat. (T.S. Eliot)

by BFA (agnes at ims dot uni-stuttgart dot de) on Sun Sep 18th, 2005 at 10:14:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I have to be careful to draw conclusdions, but I was astonished to learn that Mormons send a lot of their followers to Germany for their missions and the couples I got to know had definitely quite "clear" opinions about our immigration problems and their own in the US. They drew comparisons and used rhetoric I don't appreciate. I know that in Germany such a rhetoric I heard would be clearly put into the right-wing neo-nazi corner. May be it was just a coincidence, but my fear is that religious sects and churches are quite active in Germany beneath the radar. May be I am just hysterical. I shouldn't make a generalization, because I have no proof.

So, take my observations with cautions and forget my generalizations. They might just not be fair and unfounded.

by mimi on Mon Sep 19th, 2005 at 07:38:43 AM EST
[ Parent ]
no need to apologise. I would not be very surprised about this. In fact when I was young - ha, a mere 16 years ago, I went to a number of tent-missions and some such, not that I was particularly pious, I simply wanted to save my then girlfriend from becoming a christian fundamentalist, and so I had to go along to disprove all the indoctrination she experienced. I sort of succeded, although she then left me for a horse, but that is a different story altogether...

But at that time, there were quite a number of Americans on the "circus" (tent, making the rounds, eh) as well. Don;t think many of the once I visited were mormons, come to think of it, probably none, but even than, in the late 80ies, Germany was seen as prime missionary target. So there were probably quite a numbe of Mormons out there as well, but even for my Girlfriend they were too patently absurd.

Now to get the step from missionary to being against imigrants, in this particular case, it is more likely to be the against Muslim imigrants, bingo, Germany prime candidate of "Defender of the Christian Faith" medal.

However, as I will explain in my still forthoming magnum opus diary - Religion in Germany, the fundamentalist impetus does not rattle quite a bell as it does in the States, both Catholic and Protestant Mainstreams are to strong for that.

by PeWi on Mon Sep 19th, 2005 at 07:54:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I looking forward to your magnum opus diary :-). Thanks for responding so kindly.
by mimi on Mon Sep 19th, 2005 at 08:12:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The journalist's statement is a bit oversimplyfied. There are many conflicting non-economic issues, like European integration (Turkey!), status and role of immigrants in Germany, energy policy, internal security and civil rights etc. etc...

The main difference is the election system: first-past-the-post versus relative majority system.

by Saturday (geckes(at)gmx.net) on Sun Sep 18th, 2005 at 06:12:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
well, energy policies and internal security are IMO subsets of economic issues. Turkey's integration into the European Union, well ... so what. Germans vote for one party versus the other because of this specific issue? I would be surprised. Civil rights? So what's the raging civil rights issue in Germany these days, which would cause the Germans to hit the streets and protest about and die for?

You have to see that I didn't mean to say there aren't other issues, but I compared to the hateful divisity many social and culture and "value" issues cause in the US.

by mimi on Sun Sep 18th, 2005 at 09:01:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
First off, the culture wars don't rage nearly as venomously in Germany as they do in the US, but that doesn't mean there's no political/ideological polarization. A hefty portion of the vote is determined by religion and class. If you're catholic you're way more likely to vote CDU, unless you're lower or lower-middle class and preferably a member of a labor union. If you're protestant or have no official religious affiliation (as many people in the east do) and/or are unionized, you're far more likely to vote SPD. This is why the SPD gained a huge structural advantage from the reunification (what with catholics becoming a minority nationwide), even as it has been steadily loosing union support, as the power of organized labor has been on the decline just as it has in the US.

Secondly, it's true though that Germany isn't nearly as polarized as the US. There are currently way more swing voters in Germany than in the US (especially when you take the 2004 elections as a standard). I would guestimate the percentage of swing voters in the current elections anywhere between 20% and 40%.

Final point, ideological diversity is hampered by the parliamentary system - especially the fact that parties mostly vote as blocs. So the views and votes of the individual representative matter far less than they do in the US. Which makes the system less democratic, in the sense that there's less room for individual views; but at the same time, it also makes German politics less personality-driven.

If you can't convince them, confuse them. (Harry S. Truman)

by brainwave on Sun Sep 18th, 2005 at 06:19:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Final point, ideological diversity is hampered by the parliamentary system - especially the fact that parties mostly vote as blocs. So the views and votes of the individual representative matter far less than they do in the US. Which makes the system less democratic, in the sense that there's less room for individual views; but at the same time, it also makes German politics less personality-driven.

You really think that the individual views, that matter so much in the US system, and don't matter so much in the German system, really makes the German system less democratic? As the individual representative's views matter so much in the US system, that individual is also much more likely to be lobbied, pressured, bought, bribed and therefore less accountable and more of a lose canon than a MdB in Germany. The party as a whole, because it votes en bloc, is also therefore tighter hold to accountability to its platform and as most Germans vote for more for the platform first and only second for the individual, I feel our system is more democratic. In the US you never know who all of the sudden kisses up to what kind of legislation for what kind of dubious reasons.

May be I miss something in the German system. I obviously have some unfounded unreasonable rosy nostalgic memories about everything German ... :-)

by mimi on Sun Sep 18th, 2005 at 09:16:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
the longer I live in the States the more I feel that nostalgia myself. But, back to the issue of the individual Rep./Senator's vote mattering more - I think it's more democratic in theory. In practice, most if not all the advantages of the American system are erased by the absolutely lethal combination of three factors:

  • the extent to which so many people have been brainwashed by the fundamentalists (and their increasing grip on the MSM)

  • the incredible amount of money a candidate needs to muster in order to compete in any election

  • the influence of lobbyists.

If you can't convince them, confuse them. (Harry S. Truman)
by brainwave on Tue Sep 20th, 2005 at 01:54:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
agree very much.
by mimi on Tue Sep 20th, 2005 at 10:15:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Shouldn't the US have more diverse parties, as they have much more divisive issues they vote on?

1.  There are 3 minor parties in the USA
(a) the Libertarian Party
(b) The Green Party
(c) The Constitution Party
(d) other parties (socialist, communist, etc don't show up on the radar screen)

2.  (a) The US has a "winner-take-all" system. In other words, in a local Congressional or Senate election, if you get the majority vote vote, you get the seat.  So, if the Libertarians got 8%, The Greens got 7%, the Constitution Party got 6%, they don't get a seat in the House of Representatives. You need to win the majority of the votes to get a seat.

(b) In the US  the President, which is elected in a separate election, forms the cabinet.  So, Bill Clinton was the Dem President and formed a Dem. administration (ministers in Europe or secretaries in the US), despite the fact, that the Congress was Rep.

So you had a Dem executive branch - administration, Rep. legislature.

3.  Like many things in life - winner-take-all is good and bad.
(a)  Its good, because it creates a stability.  You don't have to enter into  a coalition with the other parties to form a government.  
(b)) Its bad, because the third parties do not have real voice in the government.  

However, recently, the 3rd parties in close elections have been playing a crucial role.

Presidential Candidate     Vote Total     Pct     Party
George W. Bush (W)     2,912,790     48.850     Rep
Al Gore     2,912,253             48.841     Dem
Ralph Nader     97,421     1.633                     Green
Patrick J. Buchanan     17,412     0.292             Reform
Harry Browne     16,102     0.270               Libertarian

Some argue, and the Greens disagree, that if the Greens voted for Gore, he would have won.   Greens further argue, that Al Gore "sold-out" the progressive politics and therefore, lost.  (Its another topic)

Similary, recently in the state of Washington, if the Libertarians voted for the Rep. candidate, the Dem governor would have lost.

4.  The state of New York has the following parties:
a. Dem
b. Rep
c. Conservative
d.  Liberal
e. Libertarian
f. (maybe others)

by ilg37c on Mon Sep 19th, 2005 at 12:49:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I can't answer right now, because I have to go to work. But thanks so far. What I need to understand exactly in comparison between the US system and the German one, in how far the proportional representation of our parlamentary system with some winner take all components for the direct mandates (I think) compares to the winner take all (and that not for all 50 states in the same manner in the US) reflects the fairness of the intention to represent the people's will of having one man one vote, equally weighted. I know I still haven't thought this through.
by mimi on Mon Sep 19th, 2005 at 08:39:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]


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