The Germans Will Probably Re-Elect Merkel. Meh?

Does "Mutti" Matter?

Politics Features Angela Merkel
The Germans Will Probably Re-Elect Merkel. Meh?

The German election arrives on Sunday, September 24, and Angel Merkel’s government is almost certain to win. Her party, the CDU, the Christian Democratic Union of Germany, will continue to reign. She is the longest-serving head of government in the European Union, the most senior member of the G7 alliance, and like the Black Forest, it seems like she will stand forever. The German nickname for her is “Mutti,” a familiar form of “Mother.”

Merkel heads a center-right coalition, made up of her CDU, and the Christian Social Union in Bavaria (a rural Catholic Party), and the Social Democrats, who are basically our own American Democratic Party with spine included. This grand coalition, in one form or another, has ruled Germany since 2005.

It is tough to like the German Chancellor, the queen of austerity, who serves to enact the will of German bankers on the rest of Eurozone. She carps constantly about Europe’s social spending—which is stingy, in reality. She pillaged Greece. She is the able, unswerving hand of an unjust system. In so many ways, she represents neoliberalism. The Chancellor embodies the post-Cold-War era of sham meritocracy, rapacious capitalism, and the technocratic, managerial state. Angela Merkel is hard to love. But it is easy to respect her.

As The Atlantic notes,

On August 12, German Chancellor Angela Merkel kicked off her reelection campaign in the west German city of Dortmund. Fresh from a three-week vacation in the Italian Alps, she joked that she’d neglected to mention that the election wasn’t yet over and done with. “I almost forgot to say that the election isn’t already decided,” she said. “And of course, we need every vote.” With the way this campaign is going, Merkel could be forgiven for nearly forgetting that crucial piece of information. After expectations that this year’s campaign would be Germany’s most contentious one in years, the final weeks of the election have felt decidedly devoid of drama—enough so that the Wall Street Journal’s headline in a recent story about the campaign declared succinctly: “Wow, it’s Boring.”

Merkel represents the world that has gone. Even though she took power twelve years ago, she reminds me of the Nineties, when people still believed bankers told the truth. The Chancellor is a visitor from a distant world, from a universe where politics is not dictated by the emotional seizure of Manhattan billionaires.

Thing is, 2017 wasn’t supposed to be the Chancellor’s year. Merkel opened Germany’s borders to immigrants in 2015. Plenty of talking heads imagined the next election was going to be the dust-biting year for her and her team. The right was gunning for her. And not just the right. The gathering momentum of the left has been building. The wave of anti-globalization, anti-austerity campaigning has built every year. From right and left, the old order is rocked. System after system has tottered in the tide. But in 2017, it appears that Germany has weathered the storm. As the Atlantic points out, as the Orange Sun rises above America, Merkel is “a stable figure in a rapidly changing world.”

This is in line with what Stefan Kornelius once called “her deliberate, argument-driven, boring, clinical policy style. She takes a problem, cuts it into pieces and tries to find a solution, often heavily technical and always very detailed.” Merkel is who Hillary Clinton pretended to be: a competent, accomplished political artist with real achievement and little charisma. Clinton was ambition surrounded with a team of well-paid flunkies and a phalanx of Twitter checkmarks; Merkel is the real deal. She had a mostly friendly debate with her challenger Martin Schulz on television. Polls taken afterwards showed that most Germans believed Merkel had “won.”

Per the Times:

In Freiburg, where a group of residents had been invited to watch the debate, few appeared to be swayed. … Another woman, Janina Welke, said: “I think it confirmed many things that I already thought. There was nothing new.” Germany’s political landscape thrives on consensus, and the two main parties have governed together for four years in a coalition led by Ms. Merkel and her center-right Christian Democratic Union. This was evident in the many instances during the debate that Mr. Schulz, of the center-left Social Democrats, agreed with the chancellor. For Mr. Schulz, who appeared to capture Germans’ imagination after he announced his candidacy, sending support for his party to highs above 30 percent in February, the debate had largely been viewed as a chance to claw back that position. The Social Democrats have since dropped to around 24 percent.

We saw this happen in 2013. After Merkel won reelection four years ago, the reactions were much the same. In Foreign Affairs, the great scholar and Bismarck biographer Jonathan Steinberg wrote

On Monday morning, when Germany awoke to find that Angela Merkel had been re-elected as German chancellor, the newspaper Der Tagesspiegel printed the following commentary on its front page: “What do we need parties for when we have Merkel? That’s the attraction. Mommy is the best. We know ourselves. She won’t change much and doesn’t have to. Just because Merkel is so unspectacular, so hesitant, so apparently indecisive, she is very near to the way Germans actually are. The Germans elect their own image.”

What can be said about the Chancellor’s longevity? Germany has done its share to drive Europe off the rails. It is folly to imagine that centrist technocracy is our rock and refuge in the Age of Trump. It was that vision of the world, and that way of thinking, that drove us to this point. Merkel is the best of the politics that ruled the world after the Cold War, and that’s not saying much.

If the trustworthy, reliable Chancellor is the best the age of Triangulation can do, then the need for a revitalized left is more pressing than ever. Viewing Germany under Merkel is like visiting the Sixties-ridden United Nations compound in Manhattan: a dated edifice dealing in unrealized dreams. The onlooker is reminded of the great distance we’ve come—and just how far we have to go.

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