Jewish World Review Sept. 22, 2005/ 18 Elul,
Looking through the dome, darkly
Frau Merkel's Christian Democrats won only 35.2 percent of the
vote in the Sunday elections, barely more than the 34.3 for Herr Schroeder's
Social Democrats. She blew a 20-point lead in the public-opinion polls.
Instead of riding to power on a wave of economic reform, she'll be lucky to
tread water if she can even put together a coalition, form a government and
become chancellor. Indeed, Frau Merkel and Chancellor Schroeder together
have destroyed any chance to spark economic growth for a long time to come.
Germany, with its history of lurching quickly from one ideology
to another, clearly prefers a dull status quo to dynamic possibility,
gridlock to growth, polarization to progress. Like the meandering River
Spree that winds through Berlin, Germany is determined to navigate
sluggishly through high unemployment that would doom a government here, and
preserve a welfare state that guarantees a declining standard of living for
Interpretation of the election results inevitably resembles
something out of Alice in Wonderland. Both front-runners claim victory, a
version of he says/she says writ large. Any coalition that emerges will be a
coalition of parties with contradictory notions of how to govern, with
decidedly different ideas about how best to solve economic problems that are
swiftly becoming intractable.
Frau Merkel is pictured in der Spiegel, the German newsmagazine,
as upside down; she says she's the winner because she got the most votes.
Herr Schroeder is described as "giddy with euphoria" over the election
results. Though a loser, the chancellor regards himself as a winner: "I feel
I have a mandate to ensure that in the next four years there will be a
stable government in our country under my leadership." But saying so doesn't
make it so. When Frau Merkel tells the Social Democrats to face up to the
fact that "they are not the strongest party," the chancellor calls her
"arrogant" and "self-confident." In contemporary Germany, "self-confidence"
is proof of delusion.
The most improbable coalition is the stuff of satire, joining
conservatives, environmentalists and laissez-faire businessmen in what has
come to be called "The Jamaican Coalition" the colors of the respective
political parties, black, yellow and green; the colors of the Jamaican flag.
The tabloid newspaper Bild plays it for laughs, depicting the leaders of the
three parties in frightful dreadlocks and colorful Kingston threads.
The wrangling for power now taking place behind closed doors is
likely to have little impact on Germany's dormant domestic policy, but is
likely to color German-American relations. If Herr Schroeder remains in
power, which is unlikely, he would surely continue to play out his
anti-American attitudes whenever it serves his selfish interests. In the
election campaign, he exploited anti-American envy by attacking President
Bush for not taking the military option against Iran "off the table." His
minister of state was particularly crass, campaigning with a poster
depicting coffins draped with the American flag in the hold of cargo planes
flying home from the Middle East.
Whatever slivers of silver lining there may be in the election
returns are likely to turn out to be slivers of tinsel. The chancellor's
party closed the gap at the end, but it still didn't win. Frau Merkel made
Germans think, if only briefly, about what they must do to cut unemployment,
but in the end, all they decided to do was to do nothing.
German artists and architects challenge their countrymen to look
at their world in a different way, shaking up perceptions with fresh
insights and aesthetics. But wishing doesn't make it so. Germans still want
the false security of the drab and deteriorating welfare state. Only
yesterday well, in 1995 the Reichstag was spectacularly beautiful when
the artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude wrapped it in silver foil, reflecting
light. A stunning glass dome was then built atop the building, inviting
sunlight and offering a view of the new Berlin, symbolic of the hopes and
dreams of a prosperous and unified country. The future seemed glorious.
But when the newly elected parliament meets in this building to
determine what kind of government they will have, it's unlikely to offer
much to build on those hopes and dreams. The glass dome is a powerful image
of renewal and clarity, but the new Germans are determined to look through
the glass, darkly.
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