At a time of political polarization and upheaval in the West, the Atlantic Sentinel believes the center can hold. It are not the fanatics on either side who get things done; it are reasonable people in the middle. Better to muddle through than to veer to extremes.
European leaders are “weak”, the American president is “bold”. It’s a trope so old, at this point it tells us more about the people who perpetuate it than about elected officials on either side of the Atlantic.
Romano Prodi was “weak“. José María Aznar was “weak“. François Mitterrand was “weak“. His successor, Jacques Chirac, lacked “gravitas“.
A year before the election of Donald Trump, Robert Kaplan disparaged the “grey, insipid ciphers” who wandered Europe’s halls of power. An article in Foreign Affairs accused the continent’s “cowardly” leadership of rendering the EU “irrelevant”. A 2005 op-ed in The New York Times lamented the “weakness” of European leaders at the very time President George W. Bush called for a “renewal” in transatlantic relations. (The same George W. Bush who two years earlier had created the deepest crisis in transatlantic relations since the end of the Cold War by invading Iraq.)
Here we go again. Jef Poortmans, a commentator for Belgium’s Knack magazine, compares Joe Biden’s “zeal” with Europe’s “washed out” leadership. Timothy Garton Ash, whose expectations the EU has never met, argues the bloc faces “one of the biggest challenges of its life” (again). Philip Stephens contrasts Biden’s “ambition”, “audacity”, “energy” and “resolve” with the “defensive incrementalism” of his European counterparts, in particular Angela Merkel.
The “real significance” of Biden’s agenda, writes Stephens in the Financial Times — a $1.9 trillion coronavirus rescue program and a $3 trillion education and infrastructure bill — “lies in a bold reassertion of the responsibilities of government.”
Charles de Gaulle’s great achievement, to paraphrase his British biographer, Julian Jackson, was that he reconciled the French left to patriotism and the French right to democracy.
The history of France since 1789 has been a consistent struggle between a universalist left and the conservative right; between republic and monarchy; the Enlightenment and Catholicism; labor and capital; Paris and La France profonde.
History hasn’t ended. Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen embody opposite visions of France today. But de Gaulle narrowed the divide and helped Frenchmen and -women think of each other as opponents rather than enemies.
That America could use a whiff of Gaullism isn’t my idea. Ross Douthat, the conservative columnist of The New York Times, called for an American de Gaulle two years ago.
Saturday’s election for the leadership of Germany’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) is also a debate over the future identity of the party.
Friedrich Merz, the darling of the right, would arrest Angela Merkel’s twenty-year slide to the center and take the fight to the far right with small-government and law-and-order policies.
Armin Laschet, the prime minister of North Rhine-Westphalia, and Norbert Röttgen, a parliamentarian, fear Merz would throw away Merkel’s gains with younger and women voters. They argue for continuity (critics might say muddling through), with Röttgen proposing a slightly more modernizing program.
Waiting in the wings are Jens Spahn, the ambitious health minister, and Markus Söder, the prime minister of Bavaria. Neither man is in the running for the party leadership, but they may yet hope to be nominated for the chancellorship. Spahn is a younger version of Merz, Söder a more solid version of Laschet. Read more “Merkel’s Party Doesn’t Need More Ideology”
Left-wing Americans weren’t happy when the Democratic Party nominated the center-left Joe Biden for the presidency, but, unlike in 2016, few sat out the election.
Nor there were major spoiler candidates on the right. Voting for Hillary Clinton was apparently too much to ask of five million Donald Trump skeptics in 2016, who voted for libertarian Gary Johnson or conservative Evan McMullin. They could have tipped the election in Clinton’s favor.
In 2020, Democrats wisely nominated the least divisive old white guy they could find and anti-Trumpers voted like the republic depended on it. Biden won fifteen million more votes than Clinton and flipped five states, handing him a comfortable Electoral College victory.
The Netherlands’ ruling liberal party has further moved to the center in its manifesto for the upcoming election, arguing that the coronavirus, climate change, American disengagement and instability in the European periphery call for a stronger state and a stronger EU.
It’s not sudden shift. The traditionally anti-statist and mildly Euroskeptic liberals have become more middle-of-the-road during the ten-year prime ministership of Mark Rutte, who will be seeking a fourth term in March.
They have overtaken their traditional rivals on the right, the Christian Democrats, who are polling at a mere 8-10 percent compared to 25-28 percent for the liberals — faraway in first place, but short of an absolute majority.
The manifesto therefore won’t be implemented in full, but it is telling the party is already signaling a willingness to move to the left in a future coalition.
The draft has yet to be approved by members. There are liberals who complain Rutte has been too willing to compromise with left-wing parties and left a space on the right for Forum for Democracy and Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party, which are polling at a combined 15-19 percent. But liberal rebellions against the party leadership are rare.
Caroline de Gruyter writes in EUobserver that Bavaria’s Christian Social Union (CSU) — which allies with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union nationally — has moved back to the center after it tried, and failed, to outflank the far right.
Even Europhiles. Former European Commission chief Jacques Delors warned that “the lack of European solidarity pose[s] a mortal danger to the European Union.” Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte threatened the “destruction of the single market” if other EU countries didn’t agree with his demand for a €750 billion coronavirus recovery fund consisting wholly or largely of debt-financed grants.
Lucas Guttenberg, deputy director of the Jacques Delors Center in Berlin, warned that Austria, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands and Sweden — the “frugal five” — were “playing with fire” by demanding verifiable economic reforms in return for financial support.
Christopher Wratil, an assistant professor in European politics at the University College London, argued “anyone with a sense of solidarity” would exclude those five countries from the recovery fund altogether.
As the EU summit, where the size and terms of the recovery program were hashed out this weekend, dragged on for days, the patience of pro-Europeans wore thin and inevitably World War II entered the discussion. Philipp Heimberger, an economist at the Vienna Institute for International Economic Studies, tweeted:
Thinking about the Marshall Plan and debt forgiveness after World War II. Striking: leading European politicians today are oblivious to history. How else could you become a nitpicker on essential common efforts for an EU recovery fund, harming your own long-term interests?
You wait for three years for the center-left and center-right to make common cause against the extremists on either side and in the course of a week it all happens at once:
Yascha Mounk has created a community and newsletter in defense of liberal democracy called Persuasion, which includes left-wing thinkers, such as Sheri Berman and Thomas Chatterton Williams, as well as Never-Trump conservatives Jonathan Haidt, David French and David Frum.
153 intellectuals of the left and right, including Anne Applebaum, Margaret Atwood, David Brooks, Ian Buruma, Noam Chomsky, Richard T. Ford, David Frum, Francis Fukuyama, Jonathan Haidt, Michael Ignatieff, Garry Kasparov, Mark Lilla, Yascha Mounk, Jonathan Rauch, J.K. Rowling, Anne-Marie Slaughter, Gloria Steinem, Thomas Chatterton Williams, Matthew Yglesias and Fareed Zakaria, have signed “A Letter on Justice and Open Debate” warning that cancel culture is getting out of hand and stifling free debate. Read more “Standing Up to Cancel Culture”