Sunday, September 27, 2009

"libertarians" biggest winner in today's German election?

The Free Democratic Party (FDP) made a strong showing in Germany's federal election today (and in an election in the northernmost state of Schleswig-Holstein as well), increasing its national vote share from just under 10% in 2005 to more than 14%. According to Deutsche Welle, "[t]he FDP champions sharply lower taxes, less regulation and friendliness to private enterprise." The gain allows Chancellor Angela Merkel to continue to govern despite small losses for her own Christian Democratic Union (CDU) by dropping her awkward "grand coalition" with the social democrats in favour of a coalition with the pro-reform FDP. The new coalition is known as the "black yellow" or "wasp" coalition as the FDP's party colour is yellow and Merkel's Christian Democrats are associated with the colour black (the CDU's pre-war predecessor, the Centre Party, "was represented in parliament by many black-robed Catholic priests"). Franz-Walter Steinmeier's Social Democratic Party (SPD) suffered heavy losses, "Steini girl" apparently not being able to replicate "Obama girl"'s success at delivering the Youtube vote, and the SPD's "financial sharks would vote for the FDP" advertising campaign not having much bite either.

The shift right continues a Europe-wide trend, with Norway as the notable exception, the Norwegians having kept left in elections earlier this month as a mountain of petrodollars petrokronors has kept the world's richest country-sized country blissfully floating above the economic pain being visited upon most of the rest of the western world.

Although Canada's Globe and Mail describes the FDP as "libertarian", it is rare to see the party described as such in either European or American media. For continentals, "liberal" suffices (the FDP calls themselves "Die Liberalen") and European liberals are understood to be opposed to the political left. In the USA, when the "libertarian" label has been associated with a politician it has all too frequently been with some sort of populist fringe character. The Libertarian Party's candidate for President last year was Bob Barr, who was one of the loudest defenders of the war on drugs and a southerner who has been described by his local media as 'the idol of the gun-toting, abortion-fighting, IRS-hating hard right wing of American politics." These types share with the political left a belief in conspiracies, the difference being that the menace takes the form of public institutions like the Federal Reserve or the government Department of Black Helicopters as opposed to private institutions like Big Business.

For global audiences, the most common adjective for the Economist endorsed FDP is thus "pro-business." An explicitly "pro-business" party would likely be a hard sell in America, because whereas Europeans may take a communal perspective and accept the FDP's platform of sound economic management at face value, Americans generally take an individual perspective that insists on reducing a party's platform into the question of whether it will increase government services for oneself or impact one's personal liberty (which would include one's personal tax liability).

According to the left leaning German daily Die Tageszeitung,
[FDP leader Guido] Westerwelle has restricted his political movement of his own free will. With this one sided outlook on free market policies he is steering the party toward the outer right edge of the political spectrum, in terms of social and economic policies. Today his party is the mirror opposite of the Left Party [die Linke] while the Greens have taken up a position in the traditional middle.

This view of Westerwelle (pictured here with Chancellor Merkel) may perhaps be supported by Westerwelle's "socialists and communists must not be allowed to rule Germany" campaign refusal to entertain a governing coalition with the SPD (a coalition the FDP was a part of several times in the former West Germany), and his comments about unions in 2003:
Trade unions are a plague on our country and [union bosses] are the pall-bearers of the welfare state and of the prosperity in our country.

That said, Westerwelle happens to have called for cuts in defence spending and the removal of US nuclear weapons from German soil, in addition to having complained of the "dramatic dismantling of civil rights" in Germany since the 9-11 terror attacks. The FDP leader - and likely soon to be newly minted vice chancellor and foreign minister - is also openly gay. None of this seems to have precluded the Christian Democratic Union, which "is still very much a Catholic Party" according to some, from deeming the Free Democrats their "preferred partner" in government prior to the election.
Serious beer drinkers are also serious voters--and they want tax cuts as much as anyone else.
- FDP party spokesman re Westerwelle's campaigning at Munich's Oktoberfest


Leif Mohlin said...

Norway is actually not really breaking the trend. What all seems to forget is that the majority there woted right wing and over 40 procent voted for the extreme right (FRP) or a party that said they were prepared to form a government with the extreme right (Höyre)...

It's tragic to see that the richest country take this path. Anyway, the red-green coalition could stay in power due to the way the mandates are distributed.

Brian Dell said...

Tack för kommentaren. Jag bodde i Stockholm sommaren 2008 och i Lund från 2004 till 2005. Min svenska är jattedålig eftersom talar alla engelska!

Eric Dondero said...

Brian, that was a nasty swipe you took at Bob Barr. He's not a "lunatic," or a "conspiracy nut." And he is opposed to the War on Drugs. How in the hell did you get the idea that he's in favor of it?

Bob Barr posted the 2nd highest vote total ever in Libertarian Party history. We American Libertarians are very proud of his accomplishment, and for you to blast him as you did, was entirely uncalled for, and doesn't bode well for relations between US and Canadian Libertarians.

Eric Dondero, Publisher
Libertarian Republican

BTW, I'm linking to this story this morning at LR.

Brian Dell said...

I have adjusted the original post to make it clear that Barr WAS one of the loudest defenders of the war on drugs seeing as his most recent statements suggest he has flip flopped completely, not just on drugs but on his support for the Defence of Marriage Act which would have banned the federal govt from recognizing same sex marriages.

He also voted to invade Iraq and for the Patriot Act. He has taken an un-libertarian stand on religious freedom by proposing that the Pentagon ban the practice of Wicca in the military. As for what consenting adults do, Barr's biggest claim to fame is calling for Clinton to resign over his relationship with Lewinsky.

While I'll grant that I should have acknowledged Barr's change in position, the point remains that US libertarians are hurting the international libertarian movement by latching onto southern Republicans whose flip-flopping to get accepted by Libertarian Party members ought to be clear evidence that these characters are primarily interested in being a bigger fish by virtue of being in a smaller pond.

In Alberta, libertarians are trying to bring forward a relatively soft spoken person who hasn't held provincial/state or federal office before to be the face of the movement. American Libertarians could do the same. How about looking west of the Mississippi for your next leader?

Germany's FDP is an example of a libertarian party that can be taken seriously because it is focused on sound economic policy. Meanwhile Barr, as the former director of the NRA, seems to think he needs his gun to be free, an idea that is peculiar to US culture when libertarianism as a movement ought to be independent of culture.

The Republican Party has alienated the thinking man and that ought to create an opportunity. Would the Economist dare to endorse the US Libertarian Party? This ought to be your litmus test.

Start talking more about free trade and the concerns of business and you'll be getting somewhere. The teabaggers have got the individual grievances market all locked up.