Ronald Reagan had to stand down after two sweeping election victories. Margaret Thatcher was deposed after three. Democracies are meant to be that way. Yet German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who came from behind to win a plurality in Germany's October federal elections, has pulled out his fourth victory in a row.
Kohl first swept to parliamentary power in 1982 and won again in 1986 and 1990. Even if he fails to form a government because of the vagaries of the German electoral system, he has added another astonishing record to his amazing achievements during the last 12 years. No one in the modern political history of any major Western democracy has "four-peated" in the last 33 years. You have to go back to Franklin D. Roosevelt, elected president of the United States in 1932, 1936, 1940 and 1944, to equal it, or to modern Germany's own founding father, Konrad Adenauer, elected chancellor in 1949, 1953, 1957 and 1961.
How did Kohl do it?
Apart from France's President Francois Nutterrand, now ailing from cancer and considered unlikely to see out his full term of office, Kohl is the last of the great group of leaders who reinvigorated the West in the 1980s. And, like Ronald Reagan and Israel's Yitzhak Sha-mir, he pulled off his achievements while appearing to stumble into them, re-peatedly disguising his political skill behind the sleight of hand of apparent bumbling.
It was Kohl, new to the chancellorship, who stuck fast to the decision to deploy NATO's Pershing II mobile, intermediate-range nuclear missiles in the early 1980s, despite an immense Soviet propaganda effort to prevent it. That deployment in one stroke neutralized decades of Soviet conventional and military buildup aimed at the heart of Western Europe and forced Moscow to the negotiating table -- on Western terms.
Then he seized the day in 1989 to facilitate the collapse of the East German communist state, knocking over the crucial domino that toppled all the others in Moscow's Eastern European empire. He was the driving force for rapid reunification, sweeping along the initially cautious George Bush and sweeping aside the fears of Thatcher, to create what always had been believed impossible -- a unified Germany that remained a stable, democratic pillar of NATO and the European Union.
While all the wiseacres counseled caution, Kohl pushed through virtually instantaneous economic integration. The prophets of woe predicted runaway inflation. Instead, helped by a tight fiscal policy from Germany's Bundesbank, rapid integration on generous terms produced stability. …