Like many Americans, I had hoped that Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) would win a convincing victory in yesterday’s elections in Germany and replace the anti-American government of the Social Democrats‘ (SPD) Gerhard Schröder. And while we are disappointed by the returns yesterday in which neither coalition (CDU and Free Democrats (FPD) or the SPD and Green Party) received a majority of seats in the Bundestag, I realized how little the result matters in terms of the current geopolitical situation.
To be sure, President Bush’s hand would be strengthened if a CDU/FDP government emerges. And if Chancellor Gerhard Schröder should be replaced, Jacques Chirac will have lost his largest (& strongest) ally in his project to create a European bloc to counter the United States. Whichever government emerges, President Bush’s foreign policy will remain the same. Germany is no longer as relevant as it once was.
Twenty-two years ago, however, the German election really mattered. After Helmut Schmidt, the last serious SPD Chancellor, lost a vote of confidence in the Bundestag on October 1, 1982, the CDU’s Helmut Kohl became Chancellor. As his party faced the March 6, 1983 elections, there was a growing movement against the deployment of Pershing II missiles, a deployment essential to President Reagan’s Cold War strategy.
Had the CDU/FDP coalition then lost, the Bundestag would likely not have voted that November to deploy these missiles. The Gipper’s hand would have been weakened and the Berlin Wall likely would not have fallen in 1989.
In 1983, the Germany election was significant. While the position of the United States would certainly be strengthened by the success of Ms. Merkel, it won’t be weakened should Schröder somehow manage to cling to power.
Moreover, Ms. Merkel’s absence of charisma may have accounted for the difference between her party’s standing in the polls and its final tally on election day. Like many, I had assumed her coalition would win this one. But, just a few days before the election, a poll which showed her party ten points ahead of Schröder’s, also showed Schröder far more popular than she. I wondered what this would mean to the 25-30% of German voters who then remained undecided.
As Jim Geraghty observes, “There are plenty of reasons that Schroeder is called the Bill Clinton of Germany.” He seems to have that man’s political skills (& public presence). Apparently, undecided voters preferred his charm to Ms. Merkel’s proposals for reform.
Given that Hillary Clinton, whom, at least according to the polls, Democrats prefer as their candidate for ’08, has considerably less charisma than her husband, the German election may not bode well for her prospects in a general election.
We can still hope that the various German parties cobble together a government which is more pro-American than the current one, but at least we know that no matter which government emerges, the U.S. retains its strong position in the world–something which would not have happened had the 1983 German election gone the other way. And we can draw some comfort in the failure of a smart women lacking in charisma to do as well on election day as she did in the polls.
-Dan (AKA GayPatriotWest): GayPatriotWest@aol.com