Misrepresenting Germany

The German election has been seriously misreported in the US — an accident I’m sure. The real story is the breakdown of support of the major parties, and it may presage what’s to happen in US politics.

First, it’s been represented as a victory for the party of Angela Merkel (who’ll continue as chancellor), the CDU/CSU (roughly equivalent to the Republicans here).

In fact the CDU/CSU vote percentage remained about same at 37% as in the election four years ago — but far fewer Germans voted this time, 71% of those eligible, compared with 78% in 2005. (That’s of course still much greater than the US total.) If you look far enough, you can find that the AP admits that “[Merkel’s] party suffered its second-worst showing since World War II.”

The reason that the CDU looked good is that the SPD (roughly equivalent to the Democrats) collapsed, from 36% to only 23%, their worst percentage since 1953. Maybe voters have gotten tired of people who call themselves socialists and aren’t.

That allows the CDU/CSU to form a government with the Free Democrats (a “liberal” party in the European sense, roughly equivalent to Libertarians — the word isn’t used in that sense in Europe), who raised their total from 10% to 15%, after dramatically announcing their opposition to German participation in the Afghan war (cf. the Ron Paul “revolution”).

The other beneficiaries of the SPD collapse were the left parties, Die Linke — from 9% to 12% — and the Greens (not very left) — from 8% to 11%. Naturally, the NYT reported the election as a defeat for “the left” — meaning the not-at-all left SPD — while not noticing that real gains came on the real left.

And on at least one important issue, the “left/right paradigm” isn’t very helpful. While the two major parties support the war in Afghanistan (just as in the US), the Libertarian/FDP oppose it, as do Die Linke and (some of) the Greens.

“All in all, however, the two big parties which have headed every German government since the second world war are now down to less than 57% of the vote [from over 70% only four years ago]. All the minor parties polled strongly and increased their shares. For the first time in modern Germany, all the parties in the new Bundestag have polled more than 10% but less than 40%” [Guardian/UK].

UPDATE. The NYT grudgingly admitted what had happened in an editorial on Tuesday (in the third graf):

Both parties lost ground on Sunday, the Christian Democrats slightly, the Social Democrats precipitously. Both registered their lowest percentages since the 1940s. The big gainers were the new Left Party, the Green Party and the pro-business Free Democrats.

But then it quickly pointed out what the real problem is:

German troops are more needed than ever in Afghanistan. Berlin should resist political pressures to pull them out.

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“Either you repeat the same conventional doctrines everybody is saying, or else you say something true, and it will sound like it’s from Neptune.” –Noam Chomsky