Kohl by Default

By Birnbaum, Norman | The Nation, January 24, 1987 | Go to article overview

Kohl by Default


Birnbaum, Norman, The Nation


Kohl by Default

Chancellor Helmut Kohl's quarreling coalition willvery likely win the national election of January 25 in the Federal Republic of Germany. The campaign has been singularly uninspired. Like President Reagan, Kohl is a master of intellectual and moral denial. He radiates an aggressive complacency, a philistine self-satisfaction, which appeals to tens of millions of West Germans who want nothing so much as to be undisturbed, by their own history or anyone else's. Indeed, Kohl and his party tend to treat the election as an irritating and tedious ritual. The opposition's criticisms, they do not hesitate to declare, are impertinent and irresponsible--if not, at times, subversive and even treasonable. Nothing has so characterized the last phases of the campaign as the unashamed authoritarianism of the right, fused, of course, with chauvinism, xenophobia and no small amount of anti-Semitism. This, combined with bootlicking servility to the Reagan Administration, completes the sordid picture.

West German politics are much more interesting, evenagitated, than this unattractive surface suggests. In the governing coalition, Foreign Minister Hans Dietrich Genscher's liberal Free Democrats are at war with the right wing of Kohl's Christian Democratic Union and with Franz-Josef Strauss's Christian Social Union. The Free Democrats insist on pursuing detente, envisioning a mediating role for West Germany between the superpowers. They have vetoed curbs on civil liberties proposed by their senior partners for the sake of dealing with "disorder' and "terrorism.' Genscher rhetorically opposes the division of the country into two hostile camps, the left and the right. In his campaign he has appealed to those who fear an absolute majority for Kohl and Strauss. The way to block that, he has said, is to vote not for the opposition but for the Free Democrats.

The Christian Democrats are divided themselves. They includea civilized and modern right, represented by Kurt Biedenkopf, their leader in North Rhine-Westphalia, the most populous state, and by government officials such as the effective Family Minister, Rita Sussmuth. The Republic's President, Richard von Weizsaecker, won respect from the world and half of his countrymen by telling them on the fortieth anniversary of their defeat in World War II that they could not escape the burdens of their past. That is why many in his party, implicitly supported by a vociferous gang of professorial apologists for the past, dearly wish to remove him from the public scene. There is also an economic policy dispute between the business wing of the Christian Democratic Union and its social wing.

The opposition, however, is unable to exploit those divisions.The Social Democratic candidate for chancellor, Johannes Rau, is an unconvincing candidate. …

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