Sunday, September 10, 2017

Veränderung mit Verantwortung: Neoliberalism and the center-left, Austrian edition

Austrian parliamentary elections are coming up in October. Among the three most important parties are the social-democratic/center-left SPÖ (Sozialdemokratische Partei Österreichs), the Christian Democratic/conservative ÖVP (Österreichische Volkspartei), and the rightwing/populist FPÖ (Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs).

The SPÖ and ÖVP have been coalition partners in the national government for so long it's a wonder anyone can tell the difference between them anyway. But why let that stop the SPÖ from blurring that difference even more?

The SPÖ had earlier in the campaign adopted the slogan, "Holen Sie sich, was Ihnen zusteht" ("Take what you deserve"), as we see in this poster featuring Kern as a kinda-sorta man of the people. As a slogan, it has a little bite, vaguely promising to the a defender of the unfairly deprived. The opposition parties criticized it. An opposition party criticizing your slogan, imagine that! Who could have known? They said it sounded like the SPÖ was encouraging street thieves.

And Heaven forbid that one of the legendary parties of the European left would use a slogan that might mildly irritate people who would never consider voting for them anyway. So, of course, they changed it to "Veränderung mit Verantwortung" ("Responsible change").

It just doesn't get more boring than this.

Responsible Change is right up there with Stronger Together and A Better Deal. As forgettable as they are uninspiring. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me to learn that the SPÖ hired establishment Democratic consultants from America that told them that of course the smartest approach for a center-left party that has held the Chancellorship for years was to use a slogan as bland and inoffensive as possible.

This is why the social democratic parties in Europe are in real danger of shrinking to minor centrist parties. Since the basic social and economic assumptions of the neoliberal ideology are conservative ones, the conservative parties have generally been less damaged by militant centrism than the center-left parties.

Maybe Bernie or Elizabeth Warren can swipe the Take What You Deserve slogan, since the SPÖ decided they don't want it any more.

But Responsible Change? Good grief! And consultants get paid good money to come up with loser slogans like that.

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