Friday, August 02, 2013

Merkel: great politician, or lucky tiger-rider?

Wolfgang Lieb in „Mutter Camouflage“ – Wie Merkel mit der Opposition Hase und Igel spielt NachDenkSeiten 01.08.2013 argues that German Chancellor Angela Merkel can outshine her main opposition, the SPD, because the Sozis (SPD) are so feckless in being so eager to avoid posing clear alternative programs. It allows here to play tortoise-and-hare with them.

I'm not sure that's the best metaphor for what he describes. But his description of Merkel's political success is more realistic than those of her defenders that rely on some more-or-less vague cultural mood that she supposedly promotes. Especially because he focuses on the effects of how the SPD has effectively imploded in the current depression by sticking with the neoliberal faith and nominating one of its most loyal proponents, Peer Steinbrück, as their Chancellor candidate for September's elections. Steinbrück is a strong candidate only for the distinction of being possibly the most pitiful campaigner for the Chancellorship in the history of the SPD.

What Lieb describes is Merkel's focus on what is actually conventional politics. When the SPD and the Greens - who are seated to the right of the SPD in the Bundestag, i.e., they are officially considered more conservative than the SPD - propose an issue like a national minimum wage or affirmative action targets for women and the issue starts to catch on among the public, Angie proposes some similar idea along the same lines and presents it as "sogar als noch besser und durchdachter" (even much better and better thought out) than the SPD-Green proposals.

This is normal politics, of course. If it sounds a little exotic in the context of current American domestic politics, it's because the Republican Party is largely dispensing with normal politics in favor of "fundamental opposition" politics in domestic affairs.

At some level, the measure of a "good politician" is her ability to win elections and accomplish her policy goals. And in that sense, Merkel has shown herself to be a good politician. And she's had some success with the press. Lieb notes that she's gotten the press to talk about the conservative policies of her CDU/CSU as the "social-democratization" of the CDU/CSU. Polls are showing her far above Steinbrück in being more committed to social justice.

This is a reflection of the extent to which the Social Democrats have conservative-ized themselves over the last decade or more. Steinbrück himself is identified with the raising of the retirement age from 65 to 67, a policy enacted under the SPD/CDU/CSU Grand Coalition government headed by Merkel in which Steinbrück was Finance Minister. And he faults Steinbrück and the SPD for, in particular, not offering any substantive alternative to Merkel's eurozone policies.

Mark Schieritz (Wollen Sie uns verschaukeln, Peer Steinbrück? Zeit Herdentrieb 07/31/2013) points to a recent proposal by Steinbrück to combat youth unemployment in the eurozone, which when examined just a bit is basically the same of Merkel's. "Das ist das Grundproblem der SPD: Sie bietet in Wahrheit keine Alternative, aber sie gibt vor, eine zu haben." ("That is the SPD's basic problem: in reality they offer no alternative, but they claim to have one.")

Merkel's euro crisis policy is actually dangerous for Germany. I think Merkel probably knows that she's riding the tiger, that if the eurozone disintegrates, Germany's economy will be hammered by a 30% or more rise in prices, by huge expenses to recapitalize the Bundesbank for losses under the euro-based Target 2 clearing mechanism, and by bank losses from sovereign debt defaults. The IMF is warning now that under the current course of Angie-nomics, Greece in 2020 will still be carrying debt equal to 124% of its GDP. Which means that there is effectively no end in sight under Angie's austerity policies for Greece's depression and the increasingly acute suffering it's bringing there.

But that's the problem. Merkel seems dogmatically committed to "ordoliberalism" economic doctrine. And aside from the obligatory cliches, she is not committed to anything like European solidarity. Her perspective is nationalistic. And she has consistently framed the euro problems in nationalistic terms, for the most part with the support of the SPD and Greens in doing so. So there is no immediate constituency for a drastic course change, even if Merkel were capable herself of pulling one off.

Even if the euro crisis takes another acute turn between now and next month's elections, it's doubtful that the SPD could capitalize on it politically. Steinbrück is too unattractive a candidate. And the SPD has really not been offering any kind of alternative framing to Merkel's nationalistic and austerity-obsessed eurozone policies.

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