The Atlantic Compares US And German Electoral Politics In Light Of The 2013 German Elections

The Atlantic Compares US And German Electoral Politics In Light Of The 2013 German Elections

Germany’s 2013 federal elections are over, Angela Merkel will get a third term as chancellor, and there will probably a “grand coalition” between her Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats. “No experiments” seems to have been be the mindset of large swathes of the German electorate. There was no “hope” and “change” as in the 2008 Obama campaign in the US, although many, including myself, would argue that there has been less change and more continuity from the Bush administration in many ways.

The Atlantic has a fascinating article by Olga Khazan titled “Why Germany’s Politics Are Much Saner, Cheaper, and Nicer Than Ours.” The piece compares electoral politics in the US and Germany. It is largely sympathetic towards how elections are conducted in Germany.

Whether American electoral politics are better or worse than Germany’s is, of course, a matter of opinion. But here are some interesting findings from the article that put elections in both countries into perspective:

Some notable facts about elections in Germany:

No aggressive negative campaigns, few ads:

  • Attack ads are a rarity on German TV.

Here in Leipzig, I saw several campaign posters that featured negative messages. Nonetheless, these were relatively mild compared to your typical negative ad in the US. You would not see something portraying the other party’s candidate as sympathizing with terrorists, freeing dangerous criminals, or wanting to kill your grandmother.

  • There is one 90-second ad per party per election. Ads are aired on the public TV channels and the frequency depends on the last election’s number of votes. In comparison, Obama and Romney each spent over $ 400 million on TV ads, primarily negative ads, during the 2012 campaign season.

Lower cost and shorter duration of elections:

  • The campaign of Chancellor Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), including all parliamentary races, cost 20 to 30 million euros combined. From an American perspective, that is a real bargain. Buying a Campaigning for a US Senate seat costs about $ 10.5 million (per seat!). Obama’s 2012 reelection alone cost $ 700 million—and that is without funds from PACs, a legal construct unknown in Germany.
  • However, there are no legal limits on campaign donations by individuals and corporations in Germany.
  • Elections in Germany officially last just six weeks. That is almost nothing, compared to two years of campaigning in the US, where there are party primaries.

Less Big Data, TV, and ideological purity of parties

  • Up to a third of German voters are undecided until shortly before the election.
  • There is no microtargeting of voters as in recent big-data-driven US campaigns. This probably has to do with German citizens’ history-based  (think Gestapo, Stasi) uneasiness about extensive data collection.
  • The first US-style TV debate between the candidates of the big parties in Germany happened in 2002. As the German parliamentary system is no winner-take-all system, the reluctance of polarization between two candidates of two parties seems understandable.
  • Among the big German parties, Merkel’s CDU and the Social Democrats (SPD) (“Volksparteien”), there is no lock-step adherence to certain policy positions [except maybe for the hegemony of neoliberal capitalism], as is arguably the case in the US with the social wedge issues of the Culture War. Part of Chancellor Merkel’s success has been “stealing” issues from the Social Democrats (SPD) and the Green Party, most notably the decision to do a 180-degrees-turnaround on nuclear energy after the Fukushima catastrophy in Japan.
  • In the German parliamentary system, there are several relevant “third parties,” as they would be called in the US.

Among these are the libertarian Free Democratic Party (FDP)—even though they missed the 5 percent barrier for entering the Bundestag for the first time in sixty-four years in 2013, the Green Party, and the Left Party (Die LINKE). Within the German party landscape, Khazan holds, fringe political forces cannot capture political parties, as is arguably the case with the American GOP, under the influence of the Christian Right and Tea Party libertarians.

As the article argues, the German parliamentary system “seems to encourage consensus” rather than extreme polarization.

The reason for a broad support of this “pragmatism” among the German electorate, Khazan continues, is a weariness about extreme partisan politics in light of a history that included authoritarian monarchy, Nazism, and Communism during the Cold War in the GDR.

Please check out Olga Khazan’s article. It is really worth reading.

Sex Education In The US Versus In Germany

Sex Education In The US Versus In Germany

According to the common stereotype, sexual morality in the US is still influenced by Puritan prudishness, while Europe prides itself on a more open attitude. One indicator of this seems to be the spread of abstinence-only sex education in the US.

But now a new sex education textbook aimed at five-year-olds has been published in Germany. Is this too young an age to educate children about how they came about?

TheLip.tv asked Americans on the street about their views:

Talk Radio Host Calls For Nationalist Party With Charismatic Leader

American talk radio is a phenomenon of its own with no comparison in the German media landscape. This is likely due to less strict broadcasting regulations on the US side of the Atlantic, especially since the fall of the FCC’s Fairness Doctrine in 1987, a much broader definition of freedom of speech in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution in general, and the comparatively longer distances traveled in cars in the US. All of the above factors into the popularity of AM talk radio, especially political talk formats.

For the past decades, American talk radio has predominantly been the domain of angry white male conservative populist agitators, among them figures like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, who have made a fortune feeding their audiences’ fears of American decline, multiculturalism, and the whole palette of issues subsumed under the term culture wars. A key trope of most far-right talk radio hosts has always been the claim of defending ‘freedom,’ a term so vague in the arsenal of political rhetoric that it can easily be loaded up with the most illiberal ideas, not in the meaning of liberal as in political ideology, but as in the theoretical political concept.

Case in point: Recently, conservative talk radio host Michael Savage has called for a new “nationalist party” with a “charismatic leader.” Talking about the decline in popularity of the Tea Party Movement, the conservative populist movement that had emerged along with the 2008 election of Barack Obama as president, Savage said that “the rudiment” of that new party might be found among their ranks. Savage, who was born to Russian-Jewish parents, used the analogy of a “King David” that was needed to unite the American Right. Savage, who calls President Obama a “quasi-pseudo-crypto Marxist” thinks that the Tea Party Movement was not right-wing enough and that a new party should challenge the Republican party from the right on a platform of “borders, language, and culture.”

If that sounds eerily authoritarian, it’s because it is!

A severe economic crisis. Extreme nationalism. Calls for a charismatic leader. Writing from Berlin, I hear the jackboots stomping in my head.

Read more:

Jewish Wingnut Wants Nationalist Party With Charismatic Leader.” (Ed Brayton, Dispatches From The Culture Wars, 2013/01/10)

Radio host Michael Savage calls for ‘Nationalist’ third party to challenge GOP. “(Geoff Herbert, syracuse.com, 2013/01/07)

Conservative Radio Host: America Needs A New ‘Nationalist Party’ With A ‘Charismatic Leader.’” (Anjali Sareen, Mediaite, 2013/01/06)

Top Conservative Radio Figure Calls For Nationalist Third Party.” (BuzzFeed, 2013/01/06)

Background:

Eternal Fascism: Fourteen Ways of Looking at a Blackshirt.” (Umberto Eco, New York Review of Books, 1995/06/22 via The Modern World)

 

When in the US, Dress Like a Nurse, When in Germany, Be a Firefighter!

*'''Description:''' Rettung von Verletzten bei einer Einsatzübung der Freiwilligen Feuerwehr Dußlingen (Baden-Württemberg), LIZENZFREI, fotografiert und freigegeben von Alexander Blum (www.alexanderblum.de) *'''Source:''' German Wikipedia, original upl
Firefighters: The most trusted professional group in Germany.

That is the conclusion you could draw from reading two recent polls, one from Gallup asking Americans,1 and a second one from GfK asking Germans 2 about their trust in various professional groups.

 

The five most trusted professions
United States Germany
Nurses (84%) Firefighters (98%)
Pharmacists (73%) Medical doctors (89%)
Medical doctors (70%) Post office workers (86%)
High school teachers (62%) Police officers (85%)
Police officers (54%) Teachers (84%)

The five least trusted professions:

The five least trusted professions
United States Germany
Members of Congress  (64% ‘Very Low’ or ‘Low’) Politicians (91% ‘Distrust)
Lobbyists (62%) Corporate Managers (80%)
Telemarketers 53%) Advertising executives (67%)
Car salespeople (47%) Marketing executives (62%)
Labor union leaders (41%) Journalists (56%)

Conclusion

If you were a shameless impostor who wants to gain the the local population’s trust quickly (which I am certain you are not), you might go for the nurse outfit (in the US) or the firefighter look (in Germany). As an alternative, you could also consider wearing a white lab coat and/or a stethoscope (works in both countries). A police uniform might also help, although I do not recommend this—it is likely to be illegal. If you, American traveler, would like to enchant Germans, why not try post office chic? In both countries, If you carry around a few textbooks, you could pass for a teacher. People may like you for it.

Whether you walk the streets of Berlin or Washington, avoid looking like a person who just walked out of Congress or the Bundestag. And to you, German tourist, do not even think of starting the casual conversation by trying to sell a car!

  1. Jones, Jeffrey M. “Record 64% Rate Honesty, Ethics of Members of Congress Low.” Gallup. 12 Dec. 2011. Web. 3 June 2012.
  2. GfK. “Vertrauen in Verschiedene Berufsgruppen.” Statista. June 2011. Web. 24 May 2012.

American Studies Leipzig Graduate Conference 2012, Day 1 (Keynote Speech)

Last weekend, I attended American Studies Leipzig’s third graduate conference, “Global Games, Global Goals: Locating America in the Cultural, Social, and Political Realms of Sports,” organized by the second year MA students. I have to say that the two days of conference were very pleasurable as a guest. Great organization, nice hosts, interesting speakers, and an impressive location: the Deutsches Literaturinstitut Leipzig. Not to mention quite a bit of tasty food and beverages, which bring me back to the overall conference topic and what I should do afterwards—sports.

On the first day, the keynote speech was held by Prof. Dr. Dorothee Alfermann of the Institute for Sport Psychology and Pedagogy at the University of Leipzig on “American and German Sports from a Socio-Cultural Perspective.”

In her talk, Alfermann traced the development of sports in the US and Germany, and highlighted the very different trajectories in both countries.

While in the US, sports tends to be more about performance, competition, and record orientation, in Germany, sports as a mass phenomenon emphasizes exercise  and recreational activity.

These general differences have a historical roots.

In Germany, for instance, the Turner Movement of the early nineteenth century around Friedrich Ludwig Jahn, underpinned by German nationalism, aimed at training young men for military service, while rejecting the competitive aspect of sports.

Nationalism in sports was not limited to Europe. In the late nineteenth century, Americans tried to forge their national identity in contrast to Europe, which also expressed itself in the development of own national sports, in particular baseball since the 1860s, American football, and basketball.

The organization of sports differs greatly between the US and European countries such as the UK or Germany. While schools and colleges play a central role in the US, European countries have historically organized sports around sports clubs.

One particularity of sports in the US is the combination of physical and intellectual education, embodied in college stipends for student-athletes. Sports becomes a means of getting a higher education, even though many aim for professional athletic careers.

Some similarities do exist about sports in the US and Germany today, Alfermann concluded. Sports contributes to (national) identity and produces heroes. It attracts huge crowds, is a big business, and men’s sports tend to be held in higher regard in the public eye.

More posts to follow soon.