Whenever I am stuck for a topic to write about, I can always get myself fired up by just reading the newspaper. Today was no exception. Guido Westerwelle, in particular, is a great topic whether in a blog or at the pub.
Mr Westerwelle is currently the head of the junior coalition partner in the government. The Freie Demokratische Partei or FDP as it usually referred to. They are viewed as a combination pro-business and pro-civil rights party. That would be somewhat analogous to what Americans usually refer to as fiscal libertarianism.
The FDP is currently in a bit of jam as they are becoming increasingly unpopular with not only the voting public, but also their government majority coalition partners, the Christlich Demokratische Union Deutschlannds (CDU). Recent tax policies put them in hot water with the public, and now with Mr Westerwelle feeling the heat and trying to reclaim points at the polls he is alienating the CDU.
One of the more remarkable things about the current government is that Chancellor Angela Merkel goes out of her way to avoid hyperbole and populist rhetoric. That was unpopular within her own CDU party during the last few election campaigns, but she realizes that the voting public wants something more than fiery speeches that cast blame. As a result, she is one of the most well respected politicians in the nation, even by the opposition.
And so with Mr Westerwelle picking up welfare reform as his big ticket item to the poles and with his usual speak loudly and flamboyantly first, negotiate later style of campaigning, it is no surprise there is a visible rift.
In another nod to my native American politics, Mr Westerwelle is somewhat akin to Vice President Joseph Biden who has a habit of saying things which people really are thinking and is often true, even though they may be politically unacceptable to say. The difference between the two men is that Mr Westerwelle is leading his own FDP party off an electoral cliff. The FDP for the previous 10 years or so had remained steady at about 7% of the vote. This past election they surged to 14%. Now, however, polls put them back at that 7% mark.
It is my belief that 7% surge happened because the CDU and SDP (the two largest parties in Germany) are seen as old political machines that are loosing touch with a modern Germany. The FDP’s core principles share some of those concerns, particularly when it comes to privacy rights and that is what helped them. But Mr Westerwelle’s in-your-face personality is no longer needed to attract attention to the questions government has to grapple with. Now the FDP has to push through on the pro-civil rights stance.
In a nation where multiple generations of families live under one roof, economic downturns are tough. But they are not as catastrophic as what happens in the US or the UK. That means German voters have the luxury of voting on principle rather than voting out of desperation for a better economy. Chancellor Merkel understands that. Mr Westerwelle better understand that before it is too late.