Wed Aug 31st, 2005 at 08:25:01 AM EST
I found this article today, written about last Thursday's televised "debate" on German TV...and since I didn't find any articles here at Euro Trib on this already posted, here...from late last week's online Der Spiegel...is a commentary: The Americanization of German Politics
Something is happening on the way to the German vote on Sept. 18 and it's not pretty. Call it the Americanization of German politics.
Germans are more intellectual and less superficial than Americans, right? Germans would sure like to think so. But the election campaign here is turning into a decidedly American personality contest. A Thursday evening television debate had the new German politics on display.
Since I hadn't heard any commentary on this, would love to know what folks here thought. Anyway, here's more from the Der Spiegel article:
America's first-past-the-post system places more emphasis on personalities whereas Germany uses a parliamentary system which sees voters choosing parties instead of people -- ideas over egos. The result is two parallel political universes that couldn't be more different. American political campaigns are filled with easy to digest sound bites and the occasional effort to talk politics, whereas German papers are filled with the minutiae of day-to-day politics and overly wonkish election campaigns that Al Gore would kill to be a part of. (...)
So what did we learn? We learned that Edmund Stoiber, head of the CDU's Bavarian sister party the CSU -- a pairing known as the Union -- is having trouble remembering that, contrary to 2002, he isn't the parties' joint candidate this time around. Engaged and aggressive, he started out by effectively sticking his finger into as many of the Schröder government's open wounds as he could. But then, almost as if Merkel kicked him under the table, he seemed to back off to give the tentative Merkel a bit more of the spotlight.
We learned that no matter how hard Guido Westerwelle, head of the rather anemic liberal party (FDP) -- a party that could very well end up in a governing coalition with the Union -- tries, nobody really takes him seriously. (Perhaps that's why he kept looking to the presenters much as a drowning man looks at a life ring.)
We learned that Joschka Fischer, head of Schröder's junior coalition partner the Greens and Germany's foreign minister, has been on the campaign trail -- accounting for his hoarse, Don Corleone voice -- and that regardless of the fact that the Greens and the SPD are far behind in the polls, he is still an aggressive fighter than can embody disgust for his opponents better than anyone.
We learned that Wolfgang Clement, minister of economics and labor and Müntefering's last-second replacement, is much more feisty than expected and is fully capable of taking on Merkel and Stoiber. Unfortunately, we also learned that he -- or so it seemed -- only had time to adequately prepare for the first couple of questions. He lost steam 45 minutes into the hour-and-a-half show.
And finally, we learned that Angela Merkel still has a bit of a deer-in-the-headlights look on the big stage, but that once she warms up, it's time to hit the deck. But it also seemed as though maybe she was a bit busy prior to the big event as well. She clearly chose not to waste any time coordinating with her supposed partner, Stoiber. They didn't exactly go out of their way to seem like bosom buddies.
Okay. But...what was the final summary of this debate? Did anyone win?
...this is a superficial campaign which has the two main combatants -- the SPD and the Union -- casting about for compelling campaign themes like US President Bush grasps for compelling justifications for the Iraq war. And they can't find them because the electorate is tired. For the last four years, Germans have been fed a steady diet of doomsday depression. The political debate has moved from social reform to unemployment to social reform to the tax system to social reform to the national debt and back to social reform. Now, the Union's campaign slogan seems to be "The Misery in Germany" and that of the SPD is apparently "Five Million Unemployed? What Misery?"
The overriding campaign theme has degenerated into the ever-present questions in American election campaigns: "Who do you trust?" and "Who is closer to the 'common man?'"
The result was on full display Thursday evening. A cocksure Union deigning to appear on television even though they are sure to come out on top in three weeks despite a lack of convincing arguments as to how it will fix Germany's problems. A feisty SPD and Green leadership with nothing to lose since they've already lost. And a meaningless FDP. In fact, the only question really left to answer in the election is how many Germans will actually head out to cast their ballots. Nobody will be surprised if voter turnout is decidedly American.
For those of you who follow German politics closely, and are in the know, what do you think? Is this accurate? I recall one of our intrepid german commenters (was it jandsm?) pretty much stating a similar view awhile back. Sure gives a bleak picture...