Defend Your Beliefs vs. Merkel’s Methods

Posted on August 2, 2011.

What’s playing out in America is admirable and horrifying at the same time. The politicians fight tooth and nail for their beliefs. Or is the German penchant for compromise preferable?

Anyone want to complain about the flaws of German politics? About the lack of principles and stability? About the boredom of consensus? In short, about the methods used by Angela Merkel, who goes out of her way to avoid conflict and will negotiate a conflict to death until a compromise is reached that, while it may produce no clear winners, can be supported by all?

The United States provides a contrasting example: a fight to the finish on the edge of the abyss, defense of principles, even if it causes pain. And how do the Germans react to that? Not with applause, but with horror.

That also goes for all those people who don’t like Merkel’s methods and demand more adherence to principle in politics. They don’t mean for politicians to stick to their convictions even if doing so causes national bankruptcy, unleashes an economic crisis and in a best-case scenario only results in rescue from the disaster they created.

A number of factors play a role in the threatening U.S. insolvency — among them, strategies for the 2012 elections. Those don’t necessarily have America’s best interests in mind, but merely serve as an ideological battlefield. One can’t claim that the fighters in the ring aren’t motivated by their convictions and good intentions. One may accuse the Republican right wing of resorting to blackmail techniques, but their basic concern is real: The United States simply cannot continue on with its current financial policies. The government spends $3.6 trillion annually but only takes in slightly less than $2 trillion. The right-wing populist tea party movement owes its rise to the nationwide calls for fiscal discipline. In 2010, 87 of the 435 House members were elected based on their promise to end the spiral of debt. It’s only logical that they should not abandon that promise when they still have public sympathy on their side.

The populace itself is divided. A majority opposes increasing the debt level and thinks savings must be made. But a majority has also gotten used to government social programs, with a broad majority against any cuts in Social Security or Medicare. And who among them would want to see financial assistance to education cut when so many of them are parents and grandparents of school-age children? To that extent, they’re behind the Democrats in demanding no one-sided burden to the detriment of social programs. Nearly no one supports cuts in defense spending; the Americans march to a different drummer than the Germans on that. What then, raise taxes? For God’s sake, not that! On that point, too, a clear majority of Americans part ways with Europeans.

What’s happening in America these days is admirable and horrifying at the same time. Both parties fight for their convictions. Republicans truly believe that it’s better when government lets individuals decide how best to spend their money and leaves them to look after their own social welfare. Under no circumstances do even Democrats want to be like Europe where more than 40 percent of GDP flows into government coffers. The fight between Republicans and Democrats is whether that amount should be the 18 percent favored by Republicans or the 24 percent favored by Democrats. And neither side wants to give in — if necessary, right up to the precipice. But despite the latest compromise success, there’s very little danger of American leaders permanently switching to Merkel’s methods.

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