Unconvinced Germans and Unconservative Republicans

Partisans in Germany are reluctant to join another grand coalition. Republicans in the United States have forgotten the meaning of conservatism.

German chancellor Angela Merkel answers questions from reporters in Brussels, October 19, 2012
German chancellor Angela Merkel answers questions from reporters in Brussels, October 19, 2012 (Bundesregierung)

Germany’s Christian Democrats and Social Democrats are both fending off grassroots rebellions against their decision to form another grand coalition government.

On the right, there is dismay that Angela Merkel gave away the powerful Finance Ministry. Der Spiegel reports that the decision has stirred her erstwhile catatonic party into a potentially revolutionary fury. The liberal Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung can already see the “twilight” of the Merkel era.

On the left, there is disappointment that Martin Schulz broke his word not to team up with Merkel and fear that the party will be punished at the next election. Wolfgang Münchau — prone to exaggeration, but maybe not far off this time — writes that we may be in for a Brexit-style surprise on March 4, when Social Democratic Party members vote on the coalition deal.

No alternative to the Alternative

Yascha Mounk argues in Slate that Germany’s mainstream party leaders have themselves to blame.

Instead of confronting the structural drivers for the crisis of democracy, [they] will at best administer the status quo. And that will make it all the easier for the politically shrewd leaders of the [Alternative] to claim that Germans who want a real change need to have the guts to vote for the populists in four years’ time.

I think that’s half-right.

As I wrote for the Atlantic Council’s New Atlanticist blog last week, the coalition parties are proposing concrete policies to mend the East-West divide that underpins the Alternative’s popularity — but a coherent vision is lacking.

The Alternative’s leaders aren’t as shrewd as Mounk makes them out to be. For one thing, they keep changing. But it doesn’t take a genius to exploit the German center’s vulnerability.

A recent poll puts support for the Alternative only 1.5 points behind the Social Democrats, who are polling at a low of 16.5 percent.

Republican assault on conservatism

Jonah Goldberg and Andrew Sullivan both write about the meaning of conservatism in the United States.

The former laments in National Review that too many self-declared conservatives have abandoned ideology in favor of “getting things done”. At least the trains are running on time, that sort of thing.

It took thousands of years of trial and error to come up with the ideas bound up in liberal democratic capitalism, writes Goldberg. It is decidedly unconservative to turn one’s back on all that experience.

Sullivan, coming at this from a different angle, cautions in New York magazine against throwing out the presumption of innocence to prosecute (or persecute) sexual abusers:

[The] principle of preferring ten guilty people to go free rather than one innocent person to be found guilty was not so long ago a definition of Western civilization.

In the same column, he accuses Republicans of carrying out an open and outright assault on the concepts of prudence, responsibility and moderation. “Which is to say it is an assault on conservatism itself.”