Gerhard Schroeder and the search for scapegoats

The German Red-Green coalition deserved to lose the North Rhine Westphalia election on grounds of competence and integrity. That it increases opposition control of the Bundresrat, the upper house of the federal parliament, and has triggered an early general election are powerful pluses.

In a desperate attempt to hold on in Sunday's election the social democrats' (SPD's) chairman, Franz Munterfering, published a list of allegedly leach-like capitalists whom he blamed for high unemployment in the state. The naming of capitalists accused of bloodsucking was a Nazi tactic, which major parties in Germany have avoided since 1945. It is probably no coincidence that most of the businesspeople he held up for public disapprobation were American, and several were Jewish.

It is far from the SPD's first flirtation with anti-Americanism. In the last federal elections (2002) Schroeder knew that Germany's deteriorating economy made his survival unlikely. To change the equation he whipped up a nasty campaign of anti-Americanism. The result: a virtual tie between his leftist social democrats and centrist Christian democrats (CDU/CSU). He held on to power because his coalition allies, the greens, emerged ahead of the opposition liberals (FDP), like most continental liberals a low-tax, free-market party.

The political sleight of hand, made worse by the fact that Schroeder, a normally sensible reformer, probably did not believe a word of his anti-American tirade, did nothing to address Germany's serious economic problems, and his government has been remarkably ineffective ever since.

The loss of North Rhine Westphalia, an SPD stronghold held by the party for four decades, leaves the federal coalition battered, and it is good that the electorate will have a chance to firmly settle the issue with an early election in the autumn.

Roll on the autumn. The SPD deserves to be crushed.

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