(By Ray D.)
What do you do if you are running a failing German political party that desperately needs to win an election? Well, if the SPD (the governing Social-Democratic party of Gerhard Schroeder) is any indicator, you find a convenient and popular scapegoat to blame Germany's problems on and make lots of excuses. It already worked once for the SPD during the 2002 election when they blamed Germany's economic woes on 9/11 and floods in eastern Germany and exploited German war fears and anti-American sentiment to pull out a come-from-behind victory. As a matter of fact, the 2002 election marked the last time the SPD led in national polls over its main rival, the CDU (Christian Democratic Party).
Now, with a critical state election in Nordrhein-Westfallen approaching, the SPD leadership is hoping the same tactic will work again and pull the party out of the abysmal ratings canyon in which it has found itself for the past three years.
Ratings 2002-2005: "If next Sunday were election day..."
SPD Ratings Canyon: Election 2002 Marked the Party's Last Lead
Source: ZDF Politbarometer
The SPD's major problems?: The Iraq war is no longer a major issue and people are slowly growing tired of America-baiting and Bush-bashing. Unemployment is at record highs and expected to rise, economic growth has slowed to virtual stagnation and the country continues to run chronic deficits above the 3% maximum set by the EU. So, what is the sputtering German left to do?
2002-2005: How Germans View the General Economic Situation in Germany
gut = good (green), schlecht = bad (red), teils/teils = so/so (white)
Dismal: Only 6% View Germany's Economic Situation as "Good"
Source: ZDF Politbarometer
Of course the Social-Democrats and Greens can't tell the truth and actually admit that they are at fault for the nation's dramatic economic woes. So, just as in 2002, a convenient scapegoat has to be trotted out to distract the public and spark a divisive debate that the leadership hopes will propel it to election-day victory. And the SPD's political guru, Chairman Franz Muentefering, knows just what issue is sure to fire up the party's base...or so he thinks...
Public Enemy #1: Global Capitalism
That's right ladies and gentlemen, Comrade Muentefering has boldly identified global capitalism as the new enemy of the courageous German Socialist movement. Unfortunately for Muentefering, not all of the German left is going along with his intellectually-lazy attacks on financial investors as "locusts." Green fraction leader Katrin Goering-Eckardt, for example, objects to painting all members of the private sector with too broad a brush. Others, on the other hand, think that Muentefering isn't going nearly far enough. Some of them, including hardline union members and angry unemployed workers, went so far as to pelt him with eggs during his May-Day speech.
Opponents of all political stripes are also highly uncomfortable with the SPD's McCarthy-like creation of an enemies list of supposed capitalist transgressors who are to be targeted with boycotts and other consequences. An enormous argument has now broken-out all across Germany that transcends party lines with some on the left defending the "capitalists" and some in the CDU opposition supporting Muentefering. Unfortunately for the SPD, the argument has done little to improve the party's ratings in Nordrhein-Westfallen or anywhere else in Germany...
Chairman Muentefering Says: Down with the Capitalist Locust Enemies!
According to N24, the SPD is now denying the existence of the infamous "locust" list, but has admitted that "a paper exists" that "objectively documents examples" of firms that have allegedly split-up and broken-apart German firms like "locusts" descending on a field. And guess what? The majority of the "asocial, market radical, locust" companies targeted by the SPD in its anti-capitalist crusade just happen to come from the USA. Some things just never change...
The German Media: Economic Reporting SPIEGEL-Style
Speaking of capitalism, here are two interesting SPIEGEL ONLINE articles on a related topic (GDP growth) that recently appeared just one day apart and clearly underline the magazine's political leanings:
Article 1: SPIEGEL ONLINE on GDP Growth in the United States - 28 April 2005:
America's economy has not grown at such a slow rate for two years. Europe's stock markets came under pressure after the surprisingly weak economic numbers.
Washington - The GDP of the world's largest economy grew in the initial quarter with a rate of 3.1% when calculated for the entire year after 3.8% in the fourth quarter, as reported by the US Commerce Department."
Article 2: SPIEGEL ONLINE on GDP Growth in Germany - 29 April 2005 (one day later):
The Federal Minister for the Economy Wolfgang Clement will today lower his growth prognosis for the current year. According to information from government circles in Berlin, Red-Green will also now assume, that the German economy will grow just one percent instead of 1.6%.
Berlin - According to information from the newspaper "Die Welt," The SPD politician Clement is going to name a corridor from 0.75 to 1.25 percent. For the calculation of the federal budget and the funding of the welfare system, a growth rate of 1.0% will be assumed. Up to now, the coalition believed that GDP would grow by 1.6%. For 2006, Clement wants to fix the government's prognosis at 1.6%."
Naturally, SPIEGEL ONLINE completely fails to point out that the supposedly weak and dangerously low first-quarter GDP growth rate in the United States is still more than three times higher than projected GDP growth rate in Germany for 2005! Yet the magazine strikes a far more negative, alarmist tone in its article on the United States, claiming that a three-month, short-term decrease in GDP growth from 3.8% to 3.1% poses a "danger to the world economy" and is evidence that the "US economy is losing steam." By contrast, SPIEGEL ONLINE's entire article on lower government projections for German GDP growth is completely neutral and uncritical. Again, this despite the fact that the German government's projected GDP growth rate is over three times lower than the dangerously "slow" growth rate in the USA!
Somehow this doesn't logically add up. Unless, of course, you factor the massive anti-American bias of SPIEGEL ONLINE into the equation. By the same token, it is very difficult to compare these two articles and not come to the conclusion that SPIEGEL ONLINE is heavily biased in favor of the German national government. Here again, Gerhard Schroeder and company have received a virtual free-pass from their poodles at SPIEGEL ONLINE.
Incidentally, the 1.0% projection made by the Schroeder government is generous in light of the fact that six of Germany's leading economic institutions just released a prognosis of only 0.7% GDP growth for 2005. And here is another fact you won't see reported very often in the German media: GDP per capita in the United States under President George W. Bush has remained approximately $10,000 higher than it is in Germany under Schroeder over the past several years. Maybe when it comes to economic growth and prosperity, American cowboys are smarter than European sophisticates after all...
Capitalist Cowboys vs. Socialist Comrades: Unemployment: 5.2% vs. 12.0%
On unemployment the picture is much the same. German unemployment is more than double that of the United States. But that large difference is rarely mentioned in the German media.
"Amerikanische Verhältnisse": American "Locust" Companies Have Produced More Than Enough Jobs in the USA without Socialist Intervention. And if Bush is a 'Stupid Cowboy', what does that make Schroeder and Muentefering?
Sources: US Department of Labor, Bundesanstalt für Arbeit
Some may defend Germany by pointing out that the high rate of unemployment in eastern Germany is the reason that the overall national rate is so high. It's true: Eastern Germany is a major burden on the German economy. But even if we ignore the east, unemployment in the west is still currently around 10%, almost double the current level in the US. Furthermore, unlike the US government, the German government isn't burdened with high military expenditures and hasn't had to directly deal with the consequences of the September 11 catastrophe and its aftermath.
But of course, SPIEGEL ONLINE and other German media outlets will largely continue to focus on the few stories that shed a negative light on the US economy despite the fact that America (with its "locust" private sector) is outstripping Germany on almost every economic level. A recent example was this negative SPIEGEL ONLINE article on working Americans without health insurance. Certainly, such critical stories are legitimate and necessary, but in order to achieve some balance, the German media must also put them into context by reporting on the many positive developments in the US economy and fairly comparing them to developments in the German economy.
Unfortunately, that rarely happens...