Jewish World Review Sept. 12, 2005/ 8 Elul,
Echoes of a Reagan romance
William R. Timken Jr., the new American ambassador to Berlin,
received a warm welcome when he arrived to take up his duties last week,
delivering a letter from President Bush thanking the German people for their
assistance in the wake of the storm that battered our Gulf Coast. Two planes
of the Luftwaffe, loaded with food and medical supplies, were dispatched to
Ambassador Timken's reception last week contrasted sharply with
the roughing up he got in the German newspapers when his appointment was
announced several months ago. Relations between the two governments have
been less than warm for a long time. "In a way, the disastrous diversion was
heaven sent for Timken," observes der Spiegel, the German newsmagazine.
"Many Teutonic eyebrows have been raised by the impression that Timken only
got his job by being one of President George W. Bush's many 'Super Rangers,'
a somewhat hokey Bushism designating those who have raised at least $300,000
for the Grand Old Party."
More to the point, perhaps, some Germans figured that the new
ambassador's company, which makes roller bearings in Ohio, prospers at their
expense because of protective tariffs that kept German competitors out of
American markets. But the rain that accompanies high winds can soften hard
feelings into something like sympathy. Particularly in need of softening was
the outburst by Jurgen Trittin, the Green environmental minister who
characterized the damage wrought by Katrina as the fault of President Bush.
"The American president is closing his eyes to the economic and human costs
his land and the world economy are suffering under the natural catastrophes
like Katrina and because of neglected environmental policies," he wrote in a
German newspaper. Few scientists who study weather, even several passionate
decriers of global warning, share Herr Trittin's eccentric science. He might
just as well have blamed Prometheus' theft of fire from the heavens for
When Ambassador Timken was asked about the minister's remarks,
he exposed the exploitation for what it was. "I would hope people are far
more concerned about the people suffering, who have lost family members and
houses, than about getting into scientific arguments that go on and on."
Many Germans feel superior to Americans (and everybody else),
despite the stagnation of their welfare-state economy with its stunning 12
percent unemployment (which would set off riots here), and Angela Merkel
wants to ride to the rescue, not only of Germany but of German-American
relations. Her Christian Democrats like Americans, unlike some of the
parties in the coalition ruling Germany now. She understands that, superior
or not, Germans have to make their economy more like ours to put sauerbraten
in every pot. She has even teased the Germans into discussing the flat tax.
In a debate with Chancellor Schroeder, she seemed comfortable
paraphrasing Ronald Reagan's words, if not his style. She asked voters to
answer a question similar to the question Mr. Reagan posed to Americans in
his debate with Jimmy Carter in 1980: "Are you better off now than you were
seven years ago?" The chancellor, like the Gipper, is a great communicator,
and she's not. She's a woman who's regarded as "one of the boys." She has
tried to soften her image, but the physicist who grew up in East Germany is
a "tough cookie," and not even Helmut Kohl's description of her as "mein
maedchen" my little girl has changed very much. She's become the
Teflon candidate, and Herr Schroeder hasn't cut into her 11-point lead in
the public-opinion polls.
Political emancipation in Germany, as one woman in her own party
observed, comes with a price: "conforming to the masculine." (Sound
familiar?) Certain feminists say she doesn't understand the problems of
working mothers because she's not one, an argument much like the notion that
only a whale could review "Moby Dick."
Conservatives in Germany traditionally suffer a gender gap,
which in this case suggests a large majority of male voters will make the
difference in her election. Nevertheless, she's courting women with
aggressive appeals to improving child care. Our presidents, of course, can't
say out loud what they think about elections in Germany or anywhere else in
the world, but the diplomatic gossip persists that a trans-Atlantic
relationship between Chancellor Merkel and President Bush could be a romance
like the one Margaret Thatcher had with Ronald Reagan. We're a long way from
St. Valentine's Day, but stranger things have happened.
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