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The German political "debate" on TV

by whataboutbob 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...

Great...America is now spreading around their beauty contests masked as elections...I had higher hopes for Europe than this (please don't let this be a trend!!)

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Wed Aug 31st, 2005 at 06:16:30 AM EST
German politicians seem to have a tendency to eat their own as soon as one of them proposes any particular policy. We saw this most recently with Kirchhoff last week, who came in for criticism from "fellow" CDU members for his proposed income tax policy.

So it's a lot safer to play pseudo-politics than to take a stand.

The fact is that what we're experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. -Paul Krugman

by dvx (dvx.clt št gmail dotcom) on Wed Aug 31st, 2005 at 10:10:45 AM EST
Seems like I totally missed it!
Scratch that. I probably read about it and then promptly forgot it.

I didn´t see the debate and until reading this post I couldn´t even "remember" that maybe such a debate might have happened last week. :)

And I do intent to vote on September 18. Not to mention that I´m interested in politics. And I´m still somewhat undecided.

Why would anybody watch such a debate and take it seriously?
I mean, every single politician there probably learned his/her lines about what to say for each topic.
Not to mention don´t answer any question directly and be sure to attack your political opponent while answering. And try to get as much air time as possible while denying time to your opponents.
Watching these debates is a waste of time.

Now, is that an accurate picture of the German elections?
I don´t really know.

Voters are fed up with the current government about the domestic situation. (Note to right-wing pundits: An overwhelming majority does agree with the Schroeder government about topics like Iraq. :) )
On the other hand people don´t really think that a new conservative Christian Democratic/Liberal Democrat coalition can really improve the domestic economic situation.

(Not to mention the fact that this debate didn´t include anyone from the new left-wing "Linkspartei/PDS". IIRC their numbers are slowly going down but they probably will be in the new "Bundestag" parliament.)

Anyway, that said and right now I do like two things about the "conservative" candidate Angela Merkel.
(She would probably be a crazy left-wing Democrat in the USA. :)   )
She actually mentioned raising taxes, the VAT from 16 to 18%, before the Federal election. Imagine that!
And her nomination of Kirchhoff for the finance department (is that the right word?). A former judge and professor for economics. In favor of a flat tax and in favor of closing of 400+ tax loopholes and tax excempt statutes. Despite the objections of her own party.
Even if elected, I don´t think they could simplify the tax code that much.

But it took b*lls to announce both things before an election.
That may still be a slight difference to "American elections".

by Detlef (Detlef1961_at_yahoo_dot_de) on Wed Aug 31st, 2005 at 04:41:34 PM EST
The "Spiegel" article is a good one - but only on a descriptive level. It does not ask: Why is that?

IMO, the term "Americanisation" misses the point. The reason for this apolitical election campaign lies within the current political situation in Germany: There can hardly be any doubt that the next government will be led by the CDU/CSU. Consequently, debate over issues has migrated into the conservative camp instead of, as normally is the case, being held between different parties. But debate between the traditional parties can not simply stop, for that would violate traditional patterns of mass media perception of politics. Therefore, in this part of the "discussion", issues have vanished and personality prevails. The real issues - tax reform, social security, security policy ect. - are being debated within the CDU/CSU and FDP camp, and that for a reason (an awkward one, but still a comprehensible reason).

by Saturday (geckes(at)gmx.net) on Fri Sep 2nd, 2005 at 03:34:10 AM EST

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