Germany’s dull and effective chancellor

Angela Merkel won a big victory in Germany, with her conservative coalition trouncing the socialists and other leftist parties, strengthening her hand as Chancellor. Anne Applebaum comments:

Merkel's achievement is far greater than it seems. She is a soft-spoken, even-tempered and, frankly, dull pragmatist who has compared her economic program to that of a "Swabian housewife." Her campaigns are the most boring anyone can remember. Despite the decisiveness of her recent victory, she humbly declared that she "respected those who did not vote for me." To underline that point, she celebrated her new term as chancellor with a lunch of potato soup and sausages, an event that the Financial Times called "so low-key it resembled an atonement rite more than a celebration." She is, if you like, the anti-Obama: zero charisma, zero glamour, beige pantsuits and a spouse who rarely appears in public.

And yet, partly by default and partly by design, Merkel is now the de facto leader of Europe. Over in Britain, Gordon Brown's Labor Party is immolating itself. Over in France, President Nicolas Sarkozy's attention-deficit issues propel him from one project to the next, to the irritation of everybody. The Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, is under endless investigation, and everyone else is too small or too preoccupied to compete. Even when the European Union chooses its next president later this year, he (and it almost certainly will be a he) will find it extremely difficult to do anything that contradicts the wishes of Merkel, who regularly tops lists of the world's most powerful women.
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In fact, the more I watch her, the more I am convinced that her femaleness holds the key to her success. Under her watch, Germany has continued to grow more powerful, more influential, more dominant than ever before. Yet not only has no one noticed, they applaud and ask for more. If a bull-necked Helmut Kohl or a flashy Gerhard Schroeder were running Germany, there would be rising anxiety and mumbling about the Fourth Reich — just as there was 20 years ago, at the time of German reunification, when Kohl was still in charge. But Merkel provokes no jealousy or competitiveness among the alpha males who run large countries, and she inspires no fear among the citizens of smaller ones.

On the contrary, Germany even has good relations with most of its neighbors to the east, many of which are inclined to distrust Germans as a matter of principle. This is partly because she is so willing to show up when asked, and offer mild-mannered words of friendship and apologies for World War II. After which she returns home and works to make Germany stronger and more dominant in the region. And everyone smiles. . . .

Until now, Merkel's various failings have often been attributed to the fact that she was in a "grand coalition," one of those only-in-Europe dysfunctional parliamentary governments, the result of a coalition between the Socialist left and the Christian Democrat right — an arrangement somewhat as though the White House were shared evenly between Republicans and Democrats. Every tiny issue had to be negotiated between the two major parties, every step in foreign or domestic policy elaborately discussed. But now her coalition partner is another center-right party, the Free Democrats, and she has no more excuses. Perhaps that is why she has suddenly started talking about cutting taxes, which in Germany counts as genuinely radical.

Instead of looking for “charismatic” candidates, let’s look for dull and effective ones!

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Pete

    Ja!

  • Pete

    Ja!

  • fws

    Alot the same thing has happened with Brasil and Lula. Lula started out as a communist. He is now a very low keyed and conventional candidate. But with his far left background , leaders like chavez in venezuela cannot challenge his credentials or paint him as a threat. at the same time his fiscal policies have positioned usually-messed-up Brasil to largely avoid the economic downturn.

  • fws

    Alot the same thing has happened with Brasil and Lula. Lula started out as a communist. He is now a very low keyed and conventional candidate. But with his far left background , leaders like chavez in venezuela cannot challenge his credentials or paint him as a threat. at the same time his fiscal policies have positioned usually-messed-up Brasil to largely avoid the economic downturn.

  • Eric

    We Americans prefer our leaders to be messiahs.

  • Eric

    We Americans prefer our leaders to be messiahs.

  • Bruce Gee

    I’m trying to remember when America ever, at least at the presidential level, ever had “dull” and “effective”. Jimmy Carter was dull. He was also painfully ineffective. Gerald Ford. Dull. Ineffective. Clinton? Not dull. Ineffective. Hmmm. Actually, it has been argued that the first Bush was a very effective president, particularly with regard to foreign policy. And he was very, very dull. So maybe that’s the closest we get in the modern era, eh?

    I would bet you could find on the congressional level quite a few dull but effective folks, however. Herb Kohl in Wisconsin comes to mind.

  • Bruce Gee

    I’m trying to remember when America ever, at least at the presidential level, ever had “dull” and “effective”. Jimmy Carter was dull. He was also painfully ineffective. Gerald Ford. Dull. Ineffective. Clinton? Not dull. Ineffective. Hmmm. Actually, it has been argued that the first Bush was a very effective president, particularly with regard to foreign policy. And he was very, very dull. So maybe that’s the closest we get in the modern era, eh?

    I would bet you could find on the congressional level quite a few dull but effective folks, however. Herb Kohl in Wisconsin comes to mind.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    I don’t follow European politics as much as I used to, but the conservative swing despite liberal media does make me wonder how skewed our views are concerning the populace of Europe. To be sure they may not all share the same sense of social values that we do. But I tend to think that when people start talking about Europe as some liberal Shangri-la, they are very mistaken.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    I don’t follow European politics as much as I used to, but the conservative swing despite liberal media does make me wonder how skewed our views are concerning the populace of Europe. To be sure they may not all share the same sense of social values that we do. But I tend to think that when people start talking about Europe as some liberal Shangri-la, they are very mistaken.

  • Joe

    Bruce – Kohl is note effective at all. The book on Kohl is that he actually died about two terms ago. He almost never drafts and legislation and very rearly champions any cause. All he does is hold the seat so the Dems can keep it.

  • Joe

    Bruce – Kohl is note effective at all. The book on Kohl is that he actually died about two terms ago. He almost never drafts and legislation and very rearly champions any cause. All he does is hold the seat so the Dems can keep it.

  • http://www.scyldingsinthemeadhall.blogspot.com The Scylding

    Our PM borders on dull, as well as borders on effective ;)

  • http://www.scyldingsinthemeadhall.blogspot.com The Scylding

    Our PM borders on dull, as well as borders on effective ;)

  • Peter Leavitt

    Eisenhower was thought by the liberals to be a dull, ineffective president, though, he was tough on the military budget, established a federal highway system, dealt effectively with the South on racial issues; he resisted much pressure to wage war in Lebanon, Vietnam, and over Quemoy and Matsu, while managing these matters well through hard-nosed diplomacy. He, also, convinced Stalin that he was perfectly ready to fight the Soviets should they wish a fight. Stalin knew from WWII that Eisenhower knew something about staying away from small fights in order to be ready for big ones. He did all this in a low-key style very much like that of Angela Merkel.

  • Peter Leavitt

    Eisenhower was thought by the liberals to be a dull, ineffective president, though, he was tough on the military budget, established a federal highway system, dealt effectively with the South on racial issues; he resisted much pressure to wage war in Lebanon, Vietnam, and over Quemoy and Matsu, while managing these matters well through hard-nosed diplomacy. He, also, convinced Stalin that he was perfectly ready to fight the Soviets should they wish a fight. Stalin knew from WWII that Eisenhower knew something about staying away from small fights in order to be ready for big ones. He did all this in a low-key style very much like that of Angela Merkel.

  • J

    Her good fortune is that she doesn’t have to deal with religious wingnuts who self-righteously denounce even medically necessary abortions while screaming “USA!” every time an American bomb kills a brown child in Afghanistan.

  • J

    Her good fortune is that she doesn’t have to deal with religious wingnuts who self-righteously denounce even medically necessary abortions while screaming “USA!” every time an American bomb kills a brown child in Afghanistan.

  • http://www.scyldingsinthemeadhall.blogspot.com The Scylding

    It’s a rare occassion :), but I think Peter might be on to something here. Eisenhower was certainly one of the better presidents the US had.

  • http://www.scyldingsinthemeadhall.blogspot.com The Scylding

    It’s a rare occassion :), but I think Peter might be on to something here. Eisenhower was certainly one of the better presidents the US had.

  • HistoryProfBrad

    Our misfortune is that we have to deal with anti-religious wingnuts who self-righteously defend even medically unnecessary abortions while screaming “it’s the USA’s fault” every time a terrorist kills American soldiers in Afghanistan…or Fort Hood.

    There. I corrected J’s post. :-)

  • HistoryProfBrad

    Our misfortune is that we have to deal with anti-religious wingnuts who self-righteously defend even medically unnecessary abortions while screaming “it’s the USA’s fault” every time a terrorist kills American soldiers in Afghanistan…or Fort Hood.

    There. I corrected J’s post. :-)

  • J

    Brad, thanks for underscoring my point that Merkle does not have the problems Obama does. Who in Germany is using the name of Christ to justify their demands for the dismantling of the German health care system and for German soldiers to kill noncombatants in other countries? Only in America.

  • J

    Brad, thanks for underscoring my point that Merkle does not have the problems Obama does. Who in Germany is using the name of Christ to justify their demands for the dismantling of the German health care system and for German soldiers to kill noncombatants in other countries? Only in America.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    J (@12), can we just pause for a minute and savor the irony?

    You’re lamenting how “only in America” do people “use the name of Christ” to justify their political positions … and praising Angela Merkel … who … wait for it … is the chairwoman of … trying to play up the anticipation here … the Christian Democratic Union.

    Okay, sure, they don’t mean it anymore, it’s just a historical artifact, yeah, yeah, yeah.

    I think your question would be more interesting if truncated: “Who in Germany is using the name of Christ?”

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    J (@12), can we just pause for a minute and savor the irony?

    You’re lamenting how “only in America” do people “use the name of Christ” to justify their political positions … and praising Angela Merkel … who … wait for it … is the chairwoman of … trying to play up the anticipation here … the Christian Democratic Union.

    Okay, sure, they don’t mean it anymore, it’s just a historical artifact, yeah, yeah, yeah.

    I think your question would be more interesting if truncated: “Who in Germany is using the name of Christ?”

  • J

    tODD @13.
    Not quite. I wasn’t lamenting that only in America do people use the name of Christ politically. Rather, I was lamenting that only in America do people use the name of Christ to justify opposing the extension of health care to the sick and supporting wars that kill lots of innocent people.
    If there’s a sizeable number of Germans doing that in Germany (or anywhere else), I’ll need someone to bring them to my attention. I haven’t heard of them. Hence, only in America.

  • J

    tODD @13.
    Not quite. I wasn’t lamenting that only in America do people use the name of Christ politically. Rather, I was lamenting that only in America do people use the name of Christ to justify opposing the extension of health care to the sick and supporting wars that kill lots of innocent people.
    If there’s a sizeable number of Germans doing that in Germany (or anywhere else), I’ll need someone to bring them to my attention. I haven’t heard of them. Hence, only in America.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    J,
    So are you defending or deploring the killing of innocent people? Somehow you think innocent children that haven’t come to term yet deserve to die while our “health care” system pays for it. Yet you think we should end a war where relatively few innocent people are killed in comparison to the many that would be killed if we were to just let the Taliban, and Al Quaida have there way.
    You see, I don’t like it when innocent people are killed either way. But I see the military in Afghanistan as defending and preserving lives, rather than harping on them for doing a hard job.
    What is crazy here is you don’t see your own hypocrisy in trying to shame people for using the name of Christ for their political ends, in essence you are using it for your own political ends. As for religious wingnuts, Merkel’s followers don’t make her out to be the Messiah either.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    J,
    So are you defending or deploring the killing of innocent people? Somehow you think innocent children that haven’t come to term yet deserve to die while our “health care” system pays for it. Yet you think we should end a war where relatively few innocent people are killed in comparison to the many that would be killed if we were to just let the Taliban, and Al Quaida have there way.
    You see, I don’t like it when innocent people are killed either way. But I see the military in Afghanistan as defending and preserving lives, rather than harping on them for doing a hard job.
    What is crazy here is you don’t see your own hypocrisy in trying to shame people for using the name of Christ for their political ends, in essence you are using it for your own political ends. As for religious wingnuts, Merkel’s followers don’t make her out to be the Messiah either.

  • Joe

    “What is crazy here is you don’t see your own hypocrisy in trying to shame people for using the name of Christ for their political ends, in essence you are using it for your own political ends.”

    Nail. On. Head.

  • Joe

    “What is crazy here is you don’t see your own hypocrisy in trying to shame people for using the name of Christ for their political ends, in essence you are using it for your own political ends.”

    Nail. On. Head.

  • Peter Leavitt

    Todd, The Christian Democratic Union tries to apply in a broad and sophisticated way Christian principles to complex political issues. It has contributed two very and able and respected leaders, Konrad Adenauer and Angela Merkel, to the German nation. Your sneering remark about this party is uncalled for unless you can cite evidence that this party uses Christ’s name in an unseemly way to promote its politics.

    J, your remark that Americans scream “USA” every America kills a brown child in Afghanistan reveals a rather callous mean spiritedness. One can debate the issue of the war in Afghanistan without bringing up such a reductio ad absurdum.

  • Peter Leavitt

    Todd, The Christian Democratic Union tries to apply in a broad and sophisticated way Christian principles to complex political issues. It has contributed two very and able and respected leaders, Konrad Adenauer and Angela Merkel, to the German nation. Your sneering remark about this party is uncalled for unless you can cite evidence that this party uses Christ’s name in an unseemly way to promote its politics.

    J, your remark that Americans scream “USA” every America kills a brown child in Afghanistan reveals a rather callous mean spiritedness. One can debate the issue of the war in Afghanistan without bringing up such a reductio ad absurdum.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    J (@14), you’re aware that Germany is participating in the war in Afghanistan, aren’t you? And that sometimes involves the loss of innocent life. Is the Christian Democratic Union doing everything it can to get Germany out of Afghanistan? Or are they, in Christ’s name, “supporting wars that kill lots of innocent people”?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    J (@14), you’re aware that Germany is participating in the war in Afghanistan, aren’t you? And that sometimes involves the loss of innocent life. Is the Christian Democratic Union doing everything it can to get Germany out of Afghanistan? Or are they, in Christ’s name, “supporting wars that kill lots of innocent people”?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Note that my sentiments actually mirror Bror’s (@15) here (it happens from time to time). I’m probably not as convinced as he is about what we’re doing in Afghanistan these days, but I do think the military is at least trying to prevent more deaths (by the Taliban) than it is trying to cause the death of bystanders.

    I just thought it was funny that J apparently favored the way things are in Germany, where they actually have the word “Christian” in their political parties’ names.

    Peter (@17), what, exactly, is Christian about the Christian Democratic Union? What “Christian principles” do you find so obvious in its politics?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Note that my sentiments actually mirror Bror’s (@15) here (it happens from time to time). I’m probably not as convinced as he is about what we’re doing in Afghanistan these days, but I do think the military is at least trying to prevent more deaths (by the Taliban) than it is trying to cause the death of bystanders.

    I just thought it was funny that J apparently favored the way things are in Germany, where they actually have the word “Christian” in their political parties’ names.

    Peter (@17), what, exactly, is Christian about the Christian Democratic Union? What “Christian principles” do you find so obvious in its politics?

  • Bruce Gee

    Ahem. Back to the topic. What may be of value to note is that often it is the quiet, unflamboyant leader who quietly gets a lot done. I don’t like Herb Kohl and have never voted for him, but, while he doesn’t put forth a lot of legislation with his name on it, he does do a lot of backroom things that have been effective and helpful (an example is his getting the IRS to extend the sorts of cafeteria plans that large corporations have enjoyed to farmers and the self-employed).

    I would go further: those leaders who are both charismatic AND effective probably aren’t all that effective, but have very effective staffs or aides. Tommy Thompson comes to mind. Sort of a political idiot savant, but he had a chief of staff who could work political miracles. The guy (Krausse) was totally unelectable, but worked very well behind the scenes, where most of the action is anyway.

    Lyndon Johnson. Anyone want to do one on ole Lyndon? Perhaps the best operative to sit in the oval office in my lifetime. About as charismatic as a toadstool, but connected.

    As for what defines “effective”: thar’s the rub. It all depends upon your political orientation whether you think a leader is effective. Lots of people are saying Obama is so, and lots are making long lists of his lack of accomplishments (see the recent rather hilarious opening SNL skit a few weeks ago.).

  • Bruce Gee

    Ahem. Back to the topic. What may be of value to note is that often it is the quiet, unflamboyant leader who quietly gets a lot done. I don’t like Herb Kohl and have never voted for him, but, while he doesn’t put forth a lot of legislation with his name on it, he does do a lot of backroom things that have been effective and helpful (an example is his getting the IRS to extend the sorts of cafeteria plans that large corporations have enjoyed to farmers and the self-employed).

    I would go further: those leaders who are both charismatic AND effective probably aren’t all that effective, but have very effective staffs or aides. Tommy Thompson comes to mind. Sort of a political idiot savant, but he had a chief of staff who could work political miracles. The guy (Krausse) was totally unelectable, but worked very well behind the scenes, where most of the action is anyway.

    Lyndon Johnson. Anyone want to do one on ole Lyndon? Perhaps the best operative to sit in the oval office in my lifetime. About as charismatic as a toadstool, but connected.

    As for what defines “effective”: thar’s the rub. It all depends upon your political orientation whether you think a leader is effective. Lots of people are saying Obama is so, and lots are making long lists of his lack of accomplishments (see the recent rather hilarious opening SNL skit a few weeks ago.).

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Peter,
    Did you read tODD’s statement before you commented? He has made a very good point, and it was a slam against J, not a smear on the Christian Democratic Party of Germany. Don’t get so caught up in your culture war that you start taking out those who are trying to help you.
    Yes tODD it does happen from time to time, but don’t let it fool you I’m still a conservative.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Peter,
    Did you read tODD’s statement before you commented? He has made a very good point, and it was a slam against J, not a smear on the Christian Democratic Party of Germany. Don’t get so caught up in your culture war that you start taking out those who are trying to help you.
    Yes tODD it does happen from time to time, but don’t let it fool you I’m still a conservative.


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