July 15, 2005

Chirac and Schroeder

Chirac and Schroeder are embarrassing, especially to the Western anti-war movement they helped legitimize. Both are playing on fears of change and hatred of foreigners to try and revitalize their pathetically low popularity rankings.

Both leaders may have led the diplomatic opposition to the war in Iraq with the public backing of massive supermajorities across Europe, but their track records aren't doing them any good. Chirac's approval rating is in the 20s, and Schroeder's SPD drew 24% approval in the latest five-party polling. Maybe their low ratings are despite opposition to the war, or possibly being anti-war at a time when Iraq has its own elections is looking less and less idealistic and more opportunistic. My guess, though, is that the war in Iraq isn't that big of a real issue; the people with reasons to oppose the US latch onto it, and the people with no real beef with the US are apathetic.

It is interesting to note that Blair and Howard did very well in their elections despite broad domestic opposition, while Chirac and Schroeder are getting the sort of ratings Nixon got after the Saturday Night Massacre despite leading the even broader domestic opposition to the war.

Schroeder has played up anti-capitalism, anti-globalization and anti-Americanism. His party leaders and allies have described US businesses as 'blood suckers', compared various capitalists to locusts, and even compared a CDU campaign slogan to Nazi death-camp propaganda.

Chirac has also played on fears of capitalism, of globalization and tried to gain from anti-Americanism and anti-Anglicism. He himself went to the humorously immature level of insulting British food (hopefully at least half joking) but more substantially (and far less justifiably) criticized the British social model. De Villepin in his first speech as PM promised that the French social model would not be abandoned. The anti-Americanism of both during the Iraq War run-up is still fresh in the memories of many Americans.

Schroeder and Chirac are frightfully similar in many regards. Though in France Chirac is of the right and Schroeder is of the German left, both attempted half-hearted liberalization programs his country, both used emotions about the Iraq war to gain political credibility, both have suffered major defeats at the polls (the EU Constitution treaty vote for Chirac, since Germany had only a parliamentary vote on it; the Nordrhein-Westfalen election miserable failure for Schroeder) and both are turning up the heat on emotional pleas to an anti-globalization left-wing populist base.

The insults won't work. Chirac and Schroeder, first of all, have been around for a while and there's a real problem for incumbents regarding the public's weariness; it's hard for the citizenry to stomach most leaders for a long time unless it's an office that's less present in their daily lives. Chirac was reelected in 2002 as was Schroeder, but neither was very impressive.

Chirac's victory, approximately 80% of the vote, came because the neo-fascist candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen of the National Front was the only opponent in the round two (run-off) vote; in the round one vote Chirac took the plurality with only 19.9% of votes cast. In other words, only one in five French voters (with 71.6% turnout) thought Chirac was the best choice for President - even though he was the incumbent (granted, part of this is due to the eccentricities of the French presidential voting system).

Schroeder's 'victory' was that, while his SPD edged out the CDU/CSU with 251 seats to 248 (and both with popular votes of approximately 38.5%) the Green Party's 55 seats outmatched the FDP's 47 seats (the Greens were and are the SPD's governing partner, and the FDP is the CDU's presumed governing partner). Barely a victory at all, and it was only Schroeder's opposition to the war in Iraq that manged to salvage even this much for his party. Only days before the CDU was ahead in polls, so Schroeder squeaked out his victory.

My prediction is that Chirac will not be able to run for reelection in 2007 (if he ran in won, his term would be from 1995 to 2012) and that his intra-party opponent, Nicolas Sarkozy, will be the UMP candidate. De Villepin is just too much of a haughty little bastard even for the French, and besides which is a career bureaucrat and has never run for office in his life. Sarko's father was Hungarian and fled the Soviet invasion, eventually joining the French Foreign Legion; his mother was half Sephardic Jew and the daughter of a wealthy surgeon (though Sarko is Catholic). Sarko is currently the Minister of the Interior (making him roughly the third highest in French government) and explicitly and publicly touts the virtues of the Anglo-American market system. Obviously it would be folly to expect him to be a full-blown American capitalist, but compared to many French politicians, even many of the center-right, Sarko's a reliable proponent of capitalism. Sarko is much more favorable to the US in general and a presidential campaign might feature tax cuts and labor market deregulation.

My prediction is that the red-greens will lose in Germany. That's hardly going out on a limb, though. The CDU leader Angela Merkel is already the official candidate for the September elections. Unlike the bulk of the CDU base, she's Lutheran instead of Catholic, and she's from Eastern Germany. She's no communist, though, and she supports more market reforms for Germany. She's often compared to Margaret Thacther, as both are strong women from the center-right. Merkel supported the US in the Iraq war, and is generally pro-US. When the CDU wins, the FDP will almost certainly be their coalition partner; the FDP leader would take the role of Foreign Minister. Guido Westerwelle is a Protestant from the Bonn area (western Germany, near Belgium) and is openly gay. He's been one of the foremost critics of SPD xenophobia and anti-capitalism.

I fully expect to be disappointed by Sarko and Merkel-Westerwelle, both because they'll be less than I'd expected and because they'll be limited in what they can do. But it is nice to know that Chirac and Schroeder will be kicked out and replaced by more reasonable, liberalizing, market-oriented forces - hopefully with a more pro-American persuasion.


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