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by DoDo Fri Jan 25th, 2008 at 06:55:29 AM EST

Photo from Petra Tursky-Hartmann

Many in left Blogostan the world over yearn for political leaders who'd stop triangulating, who'd stop letting the Overton Window move to the right; who respond to rivals to the left not by demonisation and Rovian tactics, but attractive policies. Politicians who stand for something.

I point you to a serious real-life test of whether this could work.

This Sunday (27 January 2008), Hessen state in Germany will hold elections. The incumbent conservative government, which has a comfortable majority in the present regional parliament, is headed by Germany's nastiest center[?]-right politician, Roland Koch. His potential successor is the onetime marginal leftie of the Social Democrats (SPD), Andrea Ypsilanti.

The history of the campaign so far has already broken all the standard rule books of politics all mainstream politicians believed since the nineties.

I'm not normally in favour of focusing only on the person of two leading candidates in a parliamentary election -- for example, the recent history of both the Italian Left and Right is not explained by Prodi vs. Berlusconi. That applies both to political analysis and the parties' own campaigns.

But this case is special. On one side, we have someone who was known for one thing: standing for certain issues (even when they were "out"). On the other side, we have a macho media populist, who is widely considered the Christian Democrats' (CDU's) second-strongest figure (after Chancellor Angela Merkel).

So, in SPD's campaign, HE (ER) is:

Photo by partykamera from Flickr.com
Roland Koch, CDU, PM of Hessen state since 1999. At that time, the centre-left federal government wanted to introduce double citizenship. Koch won with a highly demagogue-ish signature collection campaign against this law. Stoking the waves of xenophobia has been a mark of his campaigns ever since, as were other authoritarian populisms. The one he tried in this campaign was diaried by nanne and me in "Immigrant youth crime": from campaign theme to blowback for the German Right.

Koch is also an economic liberal and friend of big corporations (Hessen state includes banking and industry centre Frankfurt am Main, as well as industry centre Kassel), and left public services wither (including police). He survived several scandals, including party finance ones. He played and plays an important role in Germany's upper house of parliament, the Bundesrat, which consists of delegates of the governments of Germany's 16 federal states.

On the left corner, the Hessen SPD campaign's SHE (SIE):

Photo from Die Zeit
Andrea Ypsilanti, SPD is leading the SPD's list in the current elections. She was a longtime marginal leftist within the party. She opposed then chancellor Gerhard Schröder's reforms social cutbacks, and advocated progressive reforms instead, especially in education. Schröder dismissed her as 'Ms. XY'. But, unlike many SPD leftists, she didn't left for the new Left party.

Then, on 2 December 2006, she stunned the federal party establishment by beating the (centrist) favourite 175:165 in the Hessen leadership contest. In the meantime, egged on by losing votes to the Left Party, the federal party also moved to the left -- closer to positions she long held. And by now, she turned from chanceless outsider to a potential upstager.

And no I am not impartial... two funny campaign videos for German-speakers (I'll post translations later):

Ypsilanti chose three main campaign themes for her party. One is also the top theme for her party federally: the introduction of a minimal wage.
Another, which can be read in German (image-link left), is an education reform, one moving away from the current three-tiered, early-separation model towards one with children together for longer, based on the Finnish model. The third (read in German in image-link right) is to replace the capacity lost by Hessen's two aging and to-be-closed nuclear plants with renewables, rather than new nuclear or coal.

After Koch started his nasty 'immigrant youth crime' campaign, Ypsilanti added another theme: law-and-order Koch actually cut police jobs in Hessen, she promised to do the opposite.

As you can see, Ypsilanti's initial was made into a trademark for the campaign. The strange name comes from a divorced Greek ex-husband, she currently lives with a partner and child in wild marriage. The HE-SHE campaign was meant to pre-empt explicit and implicit attacks on her gender, and to attack Koch at his supposed strength of being a strongman.

The campaign themes are so leftish that they seem to be stolen from the Greens and the Left party, except they were Ypsilanti's positions through all the years, and the energy programme was authored by the federal SPD parliamentary faction's specialist. She is very conscious about her campaign, for example, see this quote from nanne's translation of an article thematising the comparison to Sarko vs. Ségo in the French Presidential elections:

Gleich muss sie weiter zur Moschee im Gutleutviertel, hier um die Ecke. Am Morgen hat Roland Koch ein Burka-Verbot an Schulen gefordert - obwohl bislang in Hessens Schulen keine einzige Burka-Trägerin gesichtet wurde. Da passt der Moscheebesuch besonders gut, um sich einmal wieder als größtmögliche Alternative zu Koch zu präsentieren. Ségolène Royal hat am Ende mit ihrer Strategie gegen den robusten Sarkozy verloren, doch die hessische Spitzenkandidatin der SPD sieht darin kein Omen, eher eine lehrreiche Warnung. Nicht zu wenig Härte, glaubt Ypsilanti, sei Royal zum Verhängnis geworden, sondern zu wenig Klarheit. "Am Ende hat sie zu viele Kompromisse gemacht, sie hat geglaubt, sie müsse in die Mitte rücken, und hat ihr Profil nicht durchgehalten."

In a moment she has to go on to visit a mosque in the Gutleutviertel, just around the corner from here. In the morning, Roland Koch had demanded a ban on burkas in schools - although so far not a single girl with a burka has been sighted in Hesse's schools. A visit to the mosque is especially fitting in this context, to once again present herself as the greatest possible alternative to Koch. Ségolène Royal lost with her strategy against the robust Sarkozy, but the Hessian frontrunner for the SDP sees no omen in this, more an instructive warning. Not a lack of toughness, Ypsilanti believes, would have led to the fate of Royal, but a lack of clarity. "In the end she made too many compromises. She believed that she had to move to the centre, and did not perservere in her profile."

Now how did this campaign play in the polls? Surprisingly well! You can check all Hessen polls here. In the last elections, CDU and SPD scored 48.8% and 29.1% respectively. When Ypsilanti took over, it was 43% to 27%. But in the last poll, it's level at 38% both!

It's apparent that SPD took a lot of votes from the Greens (Grüne). However, it still seems likely that SPD+Greens will be behind CDU+FDP (FDP are [neo]liberals). What will likely decide the outcome of the elections is whether the Left Party makes it across the 5% limit: if yes, neither block will have majority.

The last opinion poll ended 18 January, but some things happened since. Melanchton and then I reported friendly fire from a nasty centrist, former economy minister and current energy company oversight board member Wolfgang Clement (SPD/coal lobby). Koch for his part, after his thinly veiled xenophobic campaign backfired, kicked off an even more transparent negative campaign: with the slogan "Ypsilanti, Al-Wazir und die Kommunisten stoppen" = "Stop Ypsilanti, Al-Wazir [the Green's top candidate] and the communists".

Then the Hessen FDP declared that they won't coalition with 'this SPD', and Merkel herself intervened, declaring that the Grand Coalition (means CDU+SPD) she has on the federal level won't go in Hessen.

We'll see how it all works out, we'll cover the elections on ET. Fingers crossed. But even a narrow defeat would prove Ypsilanti's campaign philosophy right.

I will soon leave you with two more quotes from the campaign.

On Sunday, I hope by Turambar, there will be an election overage diary.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Fri Jan 25th, 2008 at 06:57:29 AM EST
Koch's "Stop Ypsilanti, Al-Wazir and the communists" campaign slogan again operates with obvious xenophobic undertones. Ypsilanti, repeating Al-Wazir, commented (quoted by Frankfurter Neue Presse Online):

,,Einen Slogan ,Dill, Knirsch und die Kommunisten stoppen`, hätte es ganz sicher nicht gegeben." "They would surely not have had a 'Stop Dill, Knirsch and the Communists' slogan."

...where the hypothetical situation was that she kept her maiden name (Dill) and top Green candidate Tarek Al-Wazir kept his Sudeten German mother's maiden name (Knirsch).

An interesting article in Die Welt writes about how the most prominent son of Hessen state: former foreign minister and Green Party star Joschka Fischer entered the campaign, in the last week.

The article also writes how Koch's 1999 anti-double-citizenship campaign impacted Al-Wazir: he was a regional parliament member for four years by then, and had no problems, but after Koch started the signature collection, Al-Wazir was attacked by pensioners on the street.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Fri Jan 25th, 2008 at 07:21:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
First video, with the healthy fruits (red is SPD's color) and rotten fruits (black is CDU's color):

The SPD has a concept for education policy.
The CDU... too...
The SPD has a concept for more workplaces and vocational training places.
The CDU... too...
The SPD has a concept for energy policy.
The CDU... too...

The SPD has Andrea Ypsilanti.
The CDU has... [TV is shut down] Roland Koooch...

Second video, with female classroom teacher and fitting news clips of Koch, this one is annotated:

Teacher: OK, now I ask you about... where can we find unsocial tuition fees? [Koch introduced them]
Koch: Here in Hessen...
Teacher: Correct!
Koch: Psss!
Teacher: ..and... who promotes nuclear power plants in place of regenerative energies? [Koch campaigns for new nuclear and against wind]
Koch: The... CDU in Hessen?
Teacher: Precisely.
Koch: <laughs with bizarre grin>
Teacher: Who is against minimal wage and protection against firing?
Teacher: Aha... And who replaces real teachers with laymen? [Koch had a silly campaign promise to end cancelled classes at school due to teachers on leave, and found he can only achieve it by hiring non-teachers as replacements]
Koch: Me personally!
Teacher: Now that's the last straw, Roland!
Koch: [stumbles backwards]
Elect Koch off -- on 27 January, give both of your votes [individual/party list] for Andrea Ypsilanti and the SPD.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Fri Jan 25th, 2008 at 12:15:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
YouTube is full of Hessen campaign and anti-Koch videos. Here is a satirised version of the German national anthem:

German TVG show Extra3's Koch song:

Nothig new under the Sun section: my favourite German cabarettist, Volker Pispers, on Koch and stricter laws and youth crime -- in 2004!

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Fri Jan 25th, 2008 at 12:35:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
This one was well-done, too:

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Fri Jan 25th, 2008 at 12:53:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yup, will do.

"If you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles." Sun Tzu
by Turambar (sersguenda at hotmail com) on Fri Jan 25th, 2008 at 06:10:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Fri Jan 25th, 2008 at 07:02:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I wish her well. the ongoing story of the last few years has been of politicians of the left tacking to the right becasue they were advised to do so...and then losing.

She is keeping her principles, her "clarity" as she describes it. Excellent. I hope she wins a great victory.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Fri Jan 25th, 2008 at 09:20:48 AM EST
Great diary! Sounds like interesting elections and I like the add's, which I think are well done, even funny. Would be refreshing to have someone like Ypsilanti move up in to important political positions.
by Fran on Fri Jan 25th, 2008 at 09:39:51 AM EST
As you clearly state: this about whether a less compromised and more determined message can get votes. I sure hope so. I've had quite enough of turncoats and their spinmeisters.

There is nothing wrong, of course, with politicians who seek to represent the views of their constituents. That is what they are there for - as representatives.

The problem with constant polling, followed by tactical message adjustment is that it almost always frames and limits debates into the top-down terms.

Television has been destroyed by the same process. The constant 'audience research' has always asked 'what do you watch?' not 'what would you like to watch if it were available?'. Ypsilanti is asking the right questions.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Fri Jan 25th, 2008 at 10:04:26 AM EST
The strange name comes from a divorced Greek ex-husband

And what a name...

There is even a city in the US with the same name derived from her ex-husband's great-great etc grandfather (it's unlikely that any Ypsilantis living today are not connected with that family)

The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom - William Blake

by talos (mihalis at gmail dot com) on Fri Jan 25th, 2008 at 10:33:14 AM EST
Ypsilanti's initial was made into a trademark for the campaign. The strange name comes from a divorced Greek ex-husband

It's also the name of the town in Michigan next to where I grew up. Strange indeed. Here's Ypsi's principal landmark:

Best of luck to her in her campaign

by dmun on Fri Jan 25th, 2008 at 10:44:49 AM EST
Great news.

Speaking of pulling the Overton window, I also note that Piratenpartei Hessen is running. Here is their campaign page.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Fri Jan 25th, 2008 at 11:58:46 AM EST
Good for her, this is what we need - a left that at least stands up.

The left has been polluted for too long now by leading figures who have totally assimilated the neolib message. They are responsible for the left's weakness and the ease with which the right draws the Overton window to the right, or "moves the lines" as the Sarkozysts say. Clinton, Blair, Schröder; the horrible Clement (as bad as that pig Koch); and a whole string of French "socialists" like Lang, Kouchner, Attali, etc. Out, dehors, raus!

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Jan 25th, 2008 at 01:14:28 PM EST
for the uplifting diary. well done!

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Fri Jan 25th, 2008 at 04:29:36 PM EST

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