It couldn't happen to a nicer guy: Schroder
Quite a few bills seem to be coming due lately: first, Australia's Howard; then, America's Bush; next, Britain's Blair; and now our dear friend and ally, Germany's Schroder, who is about to be presented with a small but pressing little bill of his own.
The pending German election is not a national one--that won't happen till 2006--so it hasn't gotten much media coverage here. I didn't even know about it until I caught this in the New Republic. As it turns out, according to TNR assistant editor Clay Risen, even though the election is only local to the state of North Rhein-Westphalia, there are national repercussions. The indication is that Gerhard may be in more than a little bit of trouble. And, like so many politicians, he is doing and saying whatever he can to stay in power.
Here's an excerpt:
Largely ignored on this side of the Atlantic, German state elections this weekend in North Rhein-Westphalia could be the beginning of the end for Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. Germany's most populous state and home to Düsseldorf, Cologne, and Bonn, NRW, as it is known locally, has been governed by the Social Democrats (SPD) for 39 years. Polls, however, show the party headed for an embarrassing defeat by the right-of-center Christian Democrats (CDU). A loss in NRW could render Schröder a lame duck between now and the 2006 federal election--not only because of the region's symbolic value as a longtime SPD stronghold, but also because a win there would give the CDU enough of a parliamentary majority to veto the chancellor's agenda.
Both friends and enemies regard Schröder as an enormously skillful and ruthless politician, so it's been no surprise to see his party's leadership take a sharp populist turn over the last few weeks, lashing out at "international capital" and the "Anglo-Saxon" business model as a threat to the German social system. In some ways it's a repeat performance of his 2002 federal election strategy, in which to save his post he demonized Bush on Iraq and all but tanked U.S.-German relations. Fortunately, Schröder has been able to repair some of the damage done by that first attack, sending soldiers to Afghanistan and training Iraqi troops. This time around, though, the debate engendered by his party's rhetoric is both more virulent and more likely to spread uncontrollably, influencing not just bilateral government relations but business relations as well. And that's bad news for both sides of the Atlantic.
Although I have my usual difficulty evaluating the actual economic arguments on the merits, it does seem pretty clear that Schroder's stance is a strategic one, designed to cover his political hindquarters, but shortsighted and potentially damaging to Germany's already at-risk economy. And furthermore, it doesn't seem to be working; the polls show his party likely to lose the upcoming North Rhein/Westphalian election.
It couldn't happen to a nicer guy.