Denmark’s Election Result Reflects European Trend

Copenhagen Denmark
Skyline of Copenhagen, Denmark (iStock/Spooh)

The results from last week’s Danish elections were in some ways emblematic of a European trend: Parties that clearly appealed to the “winners” and “losers” of globalization won while almost all the others lost.

Denmark bucked the trend in one way: the ruling Social Democrats did not lose seats. Indeed, they gained two. But it was not enough to keep Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt and her left-wing coalition in power.

For months, polls had shown the Social Democrats bleeding support to the far left as well as the nationalist Danish People’s Party. A well-run campaign staved off defeat but only because Thorning-Schmidt effectively cannibalized her coalition partners. Both the Radikale Venstre and the far-left Socialists — who left the government a year early — lost more than half their seats each. Read more “Denmark’s Election Result Reflects European Trend”

Hardening Attitudes, Party Asymmetry Root of Gridlock

The skyline of Washington DC at dawn
The skyline of Washington DC at dawn (Shutterstock/Orhan Cam)

Democrats’ and Republicans’ spectacular inability to work together did not start when Barack Obama was elected president in 2008.

If anything, it only accelerated a longer-term trend. The last few years of gridlock and government by crisis have roots going back decades. Read more “Hardening Attitudes, Party Asymmetry Root of Gridlock”

Erdoğan Victory Reinforces Turkey’s Islamization

Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is almost certain to win his country’s first direct presidential election on Sunday.

A victory for Erdoğan, who has ruled Turkey for more than a decade, would likely reinforce the NATO member state’s Islamization and exasperate opponents who have proven unable to thwart what they perceive as a drift toward authoritarianism. Read more “Erdoğan Victory Reinforces Turkey’s Islamization”

It’s Not Just Republicans Who Have Abandoned the Center

America’s Republicans are typically believed to have moved to the right in recent years, resisting any tax increases and liberal social policies, from gay marriage to immigration reform. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s primary election defeat to a more reactionary opponent this week seemed to confirm the theory. Cantor warmed up to immigration reform and was promptly voted out by his constituents.

In this view, President Barack Obama’s Democrats are the only pragmatic and “responsible” party left in Washington. That makes this a very attractive theory for leftists. If Republicans are “far right,” they are centrists by default and can claim to represent Middle America.

The problem with this theory is that Democrats have become just as intransigent as Republicans. Read more “It’s Not Just Republicans Who Have Abandoned the Center”

Turkey Doesn’t Need More Democracy

Early morning in Istanbul, Turkey, November 11, 2012
Early morning in Istanbul, Turkey, November 11, 2012 (Brendan Corey Benson)

Critics of Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government rightly point out that his ruling Islamist party seems under the impression that democracy means calling an election every four years. This narrow definition of democracy is not unique to Turkey and the solution probably isn’t democratization in a political sense. Read more “Turkey Doesn’t Need More Democracy”

German Ideological Revival Polarizes Western Politics

Berlin Germany
The sun sets on the Saint Nicholas’ Church and town hall of Berlin, Germany, January 26, 2010 (Mika Meskanen)

“Now Europe speaks German,” declared Volker Kauder, a member of Germany’s ruling conservative party, in late 2011. Despite the scolding he earned for his remarks, he was only slightly off. Not only Europe, indeed the world speaks increasingly with a German voice. Not literally, of course, but philosophically. German ideas are emerging as powerful forces all around the globe, ringing the bell for the end of the Anglo-Saxon moment in history.

Critics and defenders of contemporary capitalism in the United States both speak the language of German history. Those who seek to emulate the European welfare state regularly invoke the German model while those who condemn these leftist ideas emphasize the necessity of self-reliance and labor as the fundamental glue of society and the indispensable source of individual dignity.

The irony of this debate is that while the former claim to be ideological descendants of Karl Marx, it is the latter who use his arguments in the truest sense. For Marx, labor was the essence of human existence. Men could only be men through work which enabled him to interact with nature and create a world according to his imagination. Read more “German Ideological Revival Polarizes Western Politics”

Democratic, Republican Parties Both More Extreme

Democrats believe that Mitt Romney’s troubled presidential campaign is at least in part to blame on his struggle with his own party. The pragmatic former governor of Massachusetts would be hard pressed to persuade right-wing voters that he is conservative as they are.

To an extent, that is true. Romney is less ideologically and perhaps more instinctively conservative than many Republicans. He seems incapable of making the philosophical argument for limited government. But Romney’s problem is only part of a bigger and more radical shift in American politics. Read more “Democratic, Republican Parties Both More Extreme”

The Polarization of Dutch Politics

The land of the “polder model” is no more. Whereas Dutch politics during the last decades of the twentieth century were dominated by a culture of consensus, the rift between the political left and the political right has widened in recent years, culminating in an almost perfect split between conservative and leftist parties.

The division became evident after last year’s parliamentary election when Dutch voters swung the right and made Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party, known for its anti-establishment and anti-Islamist rhetoric, larger than the traditional ruling party, the Christian Democrats.

The election was narrowly won by the liberals. They formed a coalition with the Christian Democrats which won a one-seat majority in the lower house of parliament from Wilders.

Even if the Freedom Party isn’t formally part of the government, cooperating with Wilders, who has characterized Islam as a totalitarian ideology and proposed to ban the burqa and the Quran, has been controversial. Hundreds of thousands of traditional Christian Democrat voters defected to his party last summer but among conservative party members, a third opposed the coalition.

Last month’s provincial elections probably left the ruling coalition one seat short of an outright majority in the upper house of parliament but it is likely to count on the vote of a minority party on the religious right. To humor these orthodox Protestants, the government will not relax laws governing Sunday shopping as the liberals would like and consider reform of current abortion law.

Abortion is legal in the Netherlands into the 24th week of pregnancy and subject to a five day waiting period. The government may lower that threshold to 21 weeks.

While orthodox Christians and liberals are far apart on cultural issues, including euthanasia and gay marriage, they share a vision of limited government and like to be tough on crime. Indeed all four parties in the Netherlands’ new conservative alliance want less interference in people’s private lives and enterprise and less involvement from Brussels in Dutch immigration policy.

Ahead of the election, Prime Minister Mark Rutte called upon voters to support the coalition, even if they wouldn’t elect members of his own party. Wilders similarly urged voters to provide the three parties with a majority.

Faced with a €18 billion shortfall, Rutte’s cabinet has proposed deep spending cuts that affect welfare programs and public-sector salaries. The opposition considers the budget cuts imbalanced and unfair and has suggested that the government raise taxes on high incomes and corporations to mend the deficit.

In recent polls, the Labor Party was almost as popular as the liberals but its opposition to labor and housing market reform has occasionally alienated it from minority parties on the left. The country’s Green party and centrist Democrats actually voted with the ruling coalition in support of a Dutch police training mission in Afghanistan when Wilders and his Freedom Party opposed further military intervention overseas.

While Labor leader Job Cohen celebrated the results of the most recent election as a victory for the opposition, with five very different sizable parties on the left, ranging from socialists to left leaning liberals, it seems unlikely that he will be able to unite them on major issues.

The coalition on the right has worked in favor of the liberals, who, for the first time in a hundred years, could deliver the prime minister, and in favor of Geert Wilders, whose party is growing more solid and influential. As third partners, the Christian Democrats have not fared well.

After it was formed in the late 1970s as an alliance of religious parties, the Christian Democratic Appeal has dominated Dutch politics and governed almost constantly except during the 1990s when Labor and the liberal party joined in a “purple” coalition.

The party’s middle position, once regarded as an asset, has left it without a clear ideology, fueling debate between its conservative majority and parliamentarians who favor a return to the center.

For decades Christian politics have been in decline while party loyalty in general has dwindled. In seems unlikely that in the newly polarized constellation of Dutch politics, the Christian Democrats could prosper anew as a broad centrist movement. With the liberals and Geert Wilders outflanking them on the right, it chances of recovering altogether seem slim.