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Germans Learned Nothing from Obama

The US presidential election campaigns generated a lot of interest in Germany. I was amazed how Obama managed to mobilize so many Americans to campaign for him. I thought Americans had become political cynics, who would not believe in hope and vision. Yet, Obama achieved this.

Less than a year later, Germans have very little interest in the current election campaigns, which are very lame compared to the US campaigns. Voter apathy is high. We need an Obama type movement here to revitalize politics.

Quite a few German friends, who might envy the US, have shared this NY Times article about the situation in Germany on Facebook and via Email.

The German public followed the 2008 United States presidential election with surprising ardor, starting even before the Iowa caucuses. Yet, with less than six weeks to go before the parliamentary election that will decide if Angela Merkel remains as chancellor, the campaign is arousing surprisingly little passion or curiosity among voters.

At a time of economic and financial upheaval, with unemployment expected to climb rapidly through the rest of the year and as the most fragile of recoveries in the export-oriented German economy remains threatened by the vicissitudes of the unstable global economy, political commentators have been at a loss to explain why.

The voter apathy is well documented. The polling company Forsa said that 84 percent of the more than 1,000 people they surveyed recently found the election boring. Of those, 38 percent said the campaign was "absolutely not interesting and exciting," versus 46 percent who found it somewhat uninteresting and unexciting. Only 1 percent found it "very interesting and exciting." What interest there has been has tended toward the silly-season variety. Indeed, the candidate generating the most excitement at the moment is Horst Schlämmer.

In addition to this comedian, it was also a politician from the conservative Christian Democrats who caused some excitement in the United States. Vera Lengsfeld used her and Merkel's boobs to campaign. Time Magazine writes about her: Busting Out: German Pol Plays the Cleavage Card and The Colbert Report (HT: Ben P.) has this video segment:

The Colbert Report Mon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Tip/Wag- German Campaign, Russian Dogs & Flying Rabbis
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor Health Care Protests

Old Europe Drifts out of Recession First

The Economist:

Figures released on Thursday August 13th showed that the euro area's GDP shrank by just 0.1% in the three months to the end of June, far less than the 2.5% slump in the previous quarter. The near stability was the result of an early exit from recession in the region's two largest economies. The economies of both France and Germany grew by 0.3% in the quarter, surprising analysts who had expected the figures to show small contractions in output for both. As badly as these economies have suffered in the past year, there will be some pride that the economies have started to grow before those of America or Britain.

The Obama Administration's Engagement of Europe

President Obama has made "an unprecedented three trips to Europe during his first six months in office (including heavy lifts in Turkey and Russia)," writes Damon Wilson, Director of the Atlantic Council's International Security Program. Yet, most of his praise goes to Vice-President Biden, who flew four times over the Atlantic to make major policy announcements:

He proclaimed the Russia reset policy in Munich and previewed the administration's AFPAK review at NATO - and tackled the toughest issue on the continent: how to advance a Europe whole and free that includes the Balkans and Europe's East.  He has advanced a vision for Europe that has long enjoyed bipartisan support, but over which many, including some in the administration, have cooled as we've hit more difficult tests with Ukraine and Georgia.

Wilson concludes that Biden's four trips have helped define the Obama Administration's policy toward Europe. Moreover, rather than repudiating George W. Bush's Freedom Agenda, "Biden is rebranding it to ensure that its objectives in Europe sustain bipartisan support." Is it too early to evaluate this "rebranding" or the new administration's policy in general?

Campaign Slogan in Germany: "Yes, Weekend"

In my last post, I complained about the boring German election campaigns. At least some comedians try to add a bit of humor, reports Spiegel International:

A bona fide party called Die Partei (The Party) is campaigning with a satirical program to rebuild the Berlin Wall, turn eastern Germany into a nature reserve and populate it with the nation's pensioners.

And one of the country's best-known comedians, Hape Kerkeling, has formed his own mock party that's "conservative, liberal, left-wing and a bit ecological" and pledges to provide free cosmetic surgery for everyone.  Its catchphrase, possibly based on a misunderstanding of Barack Obama's famous slogan, is "Yes, Weekend." And it wants to abolish the eagle as the national symbol and replace it with the "Federal Rabbit."

German Elections: "Italian Conditions"?

The Economist discusses Germany's political fragmentation. Since quite a few German journalists like to dramatize socio-economic downturns by using the term “American conditions,” I thought I can have a bit of fun by talking about “Italian conditions” as a description of Germany political fragmentation, even though Italy has been much more stable recently. The Economist does not exaggerate that much, although it does claim: “With five parties in the Bundestag, the make-up of the next government could become a lottery.”  

GERMANY’S two big parties— the Volksparteien or “people’s parties”—have long been the pillars of an enviably stable political system. But they have lost ground over the years and, whoever wins the parliamentary election on September 27th, the outcome may be more fragmentation.

Between them, the centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) captured 90% of the votes cast in national elections in the 1970s. In 2005 their combined vote fell below 70%, forcing them to govern together in a “grand coalition”. The latest polls say their share could sink to around 60% (see chart). “The Volksparteien are coming to an end,” says Peter Lösche, a political scientist. This worries many Germans.

And many other Germans don’t care at all. More and more Germans have lost interest in politics, certainly party politics.

Despite the “fragmentation” of the party system, there is very little excitement or “fear politics”, which I guess is a good thing. The current campaigns for the parliamentary elections on September 27th are very boring! The two leading political candidates – Steinmeier and Merkel -- are the exact opposites of Obama in terms of charisma, vision, emotional appeal, mobilization of supporters, inspiration of hope, reduction of cynicism and apathy etc.

In fact, I doubt whether the election campaigns even started. It’s that quiet. Maybe that’s also good. Politicians might get some work done, if they start campaigning six weeks rather than sixteen months before an election.