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The Differences Between US and German Parties

The Financial Times reports:

Germany's troubled Social Democratic party on Sunday fired the starting shot in a year-long election race by ousting Kurt Beck, its hapless left-leaning chairman, and nominating the centrist Frank-Walter Steinmeier to run for chancellor in September 2009.

Yes, the party leaders decided. Just like that. No primiaries and caucasus. No TV debates and no confetti. How boring. What a difference to the US system!

Dr. Jackson Janes and Dr. Tim Stuchtey with the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies (AICGS) in Washington DC examine the differences between the German and American party systems and how the role of the party in each country shapes the way elections unfold. You can read their Op-Ed in English and in German.

Endnote: AICGS and the University of Birmingham organized a conference on "German Vulnerabilities in a Globalizing World" in March 2008  and now present the essays: German Vulnerabilities of its Energy Security by Frank Umbach,  German Welfare Capitalism: Crisis and Transition by Roland Czada,  Germany's Foreign Policy under Angela Merkel by Christian Hacke, and  The Left Party and Germany's Coalition Conundrums by Dan Hough. Does anybody want to write a guest blog post summarizing and commenting on any of these essays?

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Don S on :

I'm not sure whether the US system or the German system are more conducive to needed change. Nominally the US is, because the system of primaries and caucuses is a form of more or less direct democracy, while the German system (as described here) is a classic 'smoke-filled room' in American terms, with party bosses working out in private who will be the choice to run. Yet there does seem to be a degree of running for office in Germany, with prospective candidates traveling around the country to build name recognition and popularity among the party faithful and (to a degree) the general public. Much has been made of the role of money in US politics, and for many years I felt that to be a valid criticism. I am not as certain today. In the past two national elections the lower-funded candidate actually won. I suspect that the pluralisation of media has played a large role; with people paying relatively more attention to Youtube, Facebook, and blogs and relatively less attention to broadcast TV the attention of a captive audience can no longer be reliably purchased. Grassroots organising efforts have tremendously increased in importance in winning elections as grand media buys have declined. The German system seems to be closely-coupled to popular opinion, with the party bosses seemingly choosing candidates who most faithfully represent popular attitudes. This can lead to a kind of stasis, lthough a POPULAR stasis to be sure! In the US all KINDS of wild ideas get thrown up during an election season; the worst the problems the US is percieved to be facing the more ideas seem to be generated. The party and nominee then select a party platform from a combination of enduring principals and new ideas based on their perception of what is popular and is right. A truly transformtional political candidate comes along periodically, and manages to sell some of his views to the public. reagan was the last one in the US although I belive Obama has potential to be another; that is if he can find a way to avoid being drowned out by his own party. The reaction to the Sarah Palin nomination is a perfect example of this; Obama wants this election to be about effective change for the country. And change of the Democratic Party to again become a true voice of the American people, yet last week he was completely drowned out by a wave of contemptuous reaction to McCain's nomination of Palin. Palin is one of our own, and by attacking her with such contempt many Democrats again revealed their contempt for much of the populace. Obama stayed clear of this wave of revulsion but he is going to have to re-establish his message of real change FOR the peaple. In that sense what happened last week was potentially a disasterous loss of momentum for him. I still intend to vote for him but fear he may have lost many people who might have done the same. The calls to attack McCain rather than Palin are the correct response but may be too late. We'll see.....

Marie Claude on :

Well, the Sarah palin supporters ain't any better, I have read all the possible things on Obama and or Hilary Clinton Though I think that this person isn't what a modern democraty expects : http://www.rationalmind.net/2008/08/30/freaks-on-parade/

Don S on :

This, Marie? This is NOTHING compared with a just a few stories from the past: 1) Thomas Jefferson has a political rival (Aaron Burr) charged with treason. Burr had been Jefferson's first Vice President and a member of Jefferson's party. Jefferson replaced him for the second term. Burr went on to kill another rival Alexander Hamilton in a duel after Hamilton had impugned Burr's honor. 2) The Age of Jackson. Andrew Jackson was a politician who didn't take an insult lightly. Fought more duels than one can remember. Was know to hold a grudge - or thirty. The campigns against Martin Van Buren (his chosen succesor) were even filthier if possible. 3) Election of 1860. Abraham "The Baboon" Lincoln against the South. Lincoln was the candidate of "mudsills and greasy mechanics", so one supporter made a sign: "Mudsills and Greasy Mechanics for A Lincoln". Before Lincoln was sworn in South Carolina continued the campaign - with cannon fire! 4) Election of 1884. The Democrats were the party of "Rum, Romanism and Rebellion". "Blaine, Blaine, James G Blaine! Statutory Liar from the State of Maine!". About his opponent Grover Cleveland "Ma, ma, where's my Pa? (Cleveland had acknowleged being father of a bastard son). There is some doubt of that: Cleveland was one of several possible fathers but as a bachelor agreed to take 'credit', a gentlemanly act. 2004 - One one side we had the 'hero' of the swift boats. On the other we had the subject of (forged) memos purportedly fromn the National Guard. Not the cleanest campaign ever, I wot. This one is downright gentlemenly (or ladyish) in comparison Although "Mudsills and greasy mechanics for S Palin" might be appropriate.... ;)

Marie Claude on :

well, these are 18th and 19th centuries stories. Duels by us lasted till 19th century too. but this middle-age religiosity in public affairs is scaring

Don S on :

Swift-Boat and forged NG memos a centrury old? My how times flies. Could of sworn it was just in 2004!

Zyme on :

Yes on the first glance this religiosity is scaring - but have you ever thought about how closely the ideals of american politics ressemble the ones in our nations a hundred years ago? Highly militaristic leaderships doing their best to defend world-wide influence, using any means available - ranging from war to a religious sense of mission?

Marie Claude on :

it reminds me the Napoleon III african "evangelisation" wars :lol:

Don S on :

Really? In what way? Hadn't noticed the US trying to convert the Shia to Christianity - or even justifying the war on that basis. THAT would be explosive! No, if anything things are the other around with the talk about reclaiming 'Al-Andulusia' for Islam and the 'House of Peace is the House of Islam' stuff we heard for a while.

Marie Claude on :

yeah, but you call it "DEMOCRATY", LMAO it fonctions the same ways our priests removed the animist idols

Don S on :

Ummmm well. Obviously the kleptocracy of thr Hussein family and the disappearance of a large chunk of the populace WAS a more appropriate, native form of government FAR better suited to the region than this artificial US implant. Being sophisticated souls the French appreciate these things. Of course in the historical context it's clear that despotic monarchy is the natural form of government most suited to France, and democracy merely a recent implant which will surely wither away in time. Non?

Marie Claude on :

about the same time you did though I acknoledge that imperialism came just after for us while it took more than a century and a half for you :)

Don S on :

I wouldn't call the Terror Democracy precisely. Would you?

Marie Claude on :

yes, basically because of the inherent threat of "your either with us or against us" :)

Don S on :

Ummm, I agree about the phrase, but who started the road to war in 1791? A coalition was put together and it was only a matter of time until the monarchies tried to restore Louis XVI. The French actually declraed war but were they left with much choice after being isolated? When an alliance of monarchies confronts a revolution who is saying to whom 'if you're not for us you're against us'?

Marie Claude on :

que nenni !!! That was one of 2003 famous one of Bush the second 1791, king Louis was trying to escape and was made prisonner, while the Assemblée was deliberting on Locke propositions upon the separation of the powers

Joe Noory on :

Congratulations. You managed to absorb unquestioned, the jihad's propaganda that their religious war against the rest of the world, even non-orthodox muslims, is a religious war against Islam. Anyone looking clearly at the US' actions would come to the opposite conclusion, what with millions of Americans themselves being Muslim and the US having as allies majority-muslim societies. If we are to accept your adolescent assertion, then the war to remove Milosevic was an anti-Christian war, too! No - the reason you hear such foolishness out of some people, particularly in Europe where they should know better, is because it's simple to cast that sort of aspersion and it feels good to them to do it against the US. It also doesn't require them to understand people to any greater extent that they had before - when they see someone from the near east, they see in that stranger their compartmented view that they are a practicing and avid muslim. It's as childish as thinking all the French are unemployed alcoholics who fancy themselves as intellectuals and authorities on anything and everything. Would you like to be thought of that way? Then stop buying the cheap and easy line, especially the one that's based on the images of america paraded on European TV. In case you weren't aware of it, we actually do walk on our hind legs.

Don S on :

Certain Europeans just LOVE to be 'scared' by the US, and manage to maintain the emotion continously. It's like a taste for horror movies; a safe pleasure. Enjoy! ;)

Marie Claude on :

no, just that we have to care of the right men rights enlightment

Joe Noory on :

Actually, since your perspective on it is largely based on an accumulation of slander, you might just reflexively bring up the usual Pavlov's dog phrases of the European press with regard to the US: religiosity, militarism, etc., etc. There is much more to us. We aren't the one-dimensional paper cutouts so many find so easy to hate, and so easy to digest. You are really lucky that I'm not hurling insults at you... just think for a moment about what you're alledging about a society of 300 million people, the assumtions you're making about a people in its' entirely. America didn't destry the transatlantic relationship - America is trying to have a relationship with a populations where people are quite frequently given to class-hatred, enjoys dwelling on straw-men, and seem easily distracted by simplistic conceptsa and arguments. Populations hold ideas in high-regard when they can see what they do without editorial interference by a deeply biased press and by political manipulators. So as far as I'm concerned, there is no need to encourage artifically a better transatlantic relationship, merely to humiliate out of the way those who try hard to color it. Then and only then will Americans grow to ever trust or take seriously the opinions of Europeans, and vise versa.

Pat Patterson on :

The rejoinder by the Democrats was, "Gone to the White House, ha, ha, ha."

Zyme on :

I hoped this would be brought to international attention here. How typical and symptomatic for a german party. But I would not join in criticizing this trait. It is just the way of our society - making participatory decisions when everything runs fine, awaiting authoritarian decisions when in doubt. A party that discusses too much of its politics and allows too many people outside of the inner circle to have an influence appears to be "nicht regierungsfähig" - being uncapable of governing and hence loses public support. You need a strict chain of command, this appeals to the electorate - and when in doubt always rely on a true "party soldier" (a badge of honor in german politics) like Muentefering to get the job done.

Marie Claude on :

1- paragraph : that looks a bit like our socialist party operates 2- paragraph : this how Sarkozy's party UMP operated

Zyme on :

Interesting to read. Could it be that this franco-german way is exemplary for most continental European parties? Unfortunately I lack the knowledge for this - do you know other countries' party structures? It would seem logical then that the model of all-level-participation like in the anglo-saxon world is restricted to precisely this world. Although the British seem to be leaving this trail as well.

Marie Claude on :

Well, I think Tony Blair innaugurated that kind of model I'll try to find some arguments later on

Marie Claude on :

http://www.dailymotion.com/relevance/search/tony%2Bblair/video/x414y5_tony-blair-a-lump-so-british_politics Sarkozy, Blair create the evenments. They use the medias and opinionsways to manipulate what they want that the people believe. Generally the people like to hear the kind of stories. Sometimes there is an unexpected effect, cause the politicians are also humans ; then some expert organistion take the relay to correct the image. http://www.dailymotion.com/relevance/search/tony%2Bblair%2Barte/video/x5di6e_elysee-lart-de-la-com-12-by-jimay_webcam 3 videos on the subject, I am afraid in french

quo vadis on :

There is a deep vein of anti-elitism in the American mindset that goes back to the earliest years of the nation. Its political manifestation is sometimes referred to as 'Jacksonian democracy' for President Andrew Jackson, the first president to mobilize this tradition for political purposes. I check out this site: http://watchingamerica.com, occasionally and I have noticed that many in the world press are bewildered by the popularity of Sarah Palin in the US. She isn’t cast from the 'elite' mold, and comes from a very ordinary background. She didn’t attend any of the top schools, and didn’t work her way up the political hierarchy or cultivate the right friendships, but this really isn't that unusual for US politicians and Presidents in particular. I think it’s because many Americans expect their political leaders to be representatives more than commanders. Leadership is more charismatic in nature and functions to mobilize support for a particular course of action than to direct it.

Andrew Zvirzdin on :

What do German politics mean for the EU? Where is Steinmeier on enlargement, the ENP, or CSDP? The essays were good but I am still left wondering what the new elections will mean for Germany's role in Europe. Right now, Germany seems to have taken the back seat to France on EU issues and that is odd to me. (Of course, it might just be a function of the fact that France has the Presidency right now.) And they are acting awfully timid in regards to Russia, for understandable reasons of course. But still...what is Germany's place in Europe these days?

Zyme on :

Basically you could say that Merkel stands for a pro-american and Steinmeier for a pro-russian stance. Although I would say that Steinmeier is closer to Russia than Merkel is towards the US. Merkel has become somewhat reserved towards both countries, probably preferring to do her own thing. Steinmeier on the other hand seems to underscore obvious opportunities of a german-russian partnership. "The essays were good but I am still left wondering what the new elections will mean for Germany's role in Europe." Well apart from what I said above, there still is a good chance that the coming elections will result in a similar one like the last one. So the currently unloved compromise would have to continue. "Right now, Germany seems to have taken the back seat to France on EU issues and that is odd to me. (Of course, it might just be a function of the fact that France has the Presidency right now.)" Well you gave the answer by yourself. It is an honored tradition that the country with the current presidency shows up on international relations - regardless of what goes on behind the stage. Would you mind telling us your contry of origin?

David on :

The SPD had to do something to stop the bleeding of members and influence. Beck was too erratic as a leader. Steinmeier is even more popular than Angela Merkel, according to recent polls. Problem is, by tacking to the center the SPD is only playing to the strength of the CDU, which OWNS "die Mitte". The way Beck was treated will no doubt anger many of the "alte Genossen", driving some into the arms of the Left Party. Lafontaine will benefit in the end; he is a clever politician and will come out of this stronger than ever.

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