Germany’s Spiegel magazine has an interesting article on the difficult relationship between German Chancellor Merkel and President Obama. Framed in Merkel’s love for America and “freedom,” it showcases both their very different styles and Obama’s disregard for European priorities:
American politics is a little like the film “High Noon.” It requires a protagonist, a few decent shootouts and, finally, a showdown on Main Street, one in which there is a winner and a loser. Although Obama spent a long time negotiating and making compromises to get his healthcare reform bill passed, he was still on pins and needles in the end, when it came down to the vote and he had no idea how it would turn out. He also accepted the fact that some would hate him for his policies.
A similar situation is inconceivable for Merkel. She would negotiate Main Street to death, and the combatants would eventually lay down their arms, half satisfied and half dazed. Not even during the election campaign, the classic dueling scenario in politics, did she step into the streets with her guns loaded. Instead, she continued to pursue her program to promote a general feeling of fatigue — which, unfortunately, also includes political fatigue.
Obama’s approach to politics is more individualistic. He too is dependent on an army of advisers, but when push comes to shove, his will and charisma are crucial to making decisions happen. Merkel takes a collectivist approach. She identifies the goals of other participants, blends them with her own needs and turns the whole thing into a fail-safe policy that allows her to remain popular.
There are a few odd moments in this article, probably stemming from seeing American politics through a German (and pro-Obama) lens. I’d hardly paint Obama’s victory passing health-care as a great win, given how bleak the opinion of it is among the general public and how strong a reaction it’s provoked against the President, Congress, and his own party. I’d also question how important his “will and charisma” (the latter increasingly in question, itself) are in national policy, since, in the health-care reform process, he largely ceded the initiative to Congress and, especially, Speaker Pelosi.
But what really struck me was the nuance behind the word “freedom.” The article describes Merkel’s lifelong admiration for American liberty and how she has seen this country as a bastion of “endless opportunity,” and yet she is irked that Obama has rebuffed German initiatives on anthropogenic global warming and tighter regulation of the financial markets. That hints that she doesn’t quite get the fundamental connection between economic and political liberty, and that some chaos in the former is the price of guaranteeing the latter. Perhaps that’s not surprising, since she was raised in totalitarian East Germany, and she believes that we take it too far.
And, if it’s true that Obama has resisted efforts to bring EU-style statism here, then bravo, Obama. Somehow, however, if the article’s assertion is correct, I think it has to do with other reasons, not a resistance to economy-killing statism. Not when he’s been a big advocate of cap-and-trade.
Regardless, this article is worth reading. Given Obama’s difficult relations with the British Prime Minister, the French President, and now the German Chancellor, it leaves one wondering with just whom overseas he does get along. Oh, wait…