Perhaps “hate” is too strong a word? That might be a matter of opinion, but the editors of TIME magazine's global edition apparently thought it was appropriate for their July 16 cover story, titled “Why Everyone Loves to Hate Angela Merkel,” with a photo of the German chancellor looking forlorn, as if asking herself—why me?
I’m not a big Merkel fan. I tend to reserve my most hostile feelings for pedophiles and neo-Nazis. That said, Germans have always been more uptight about semantics than Americans. Angela Merkel, for instance, was subjected to a shit-storm of indignant outrage when, during a speech to announce the assassination of Osama bin Laden, she said that she was “glad” he was dead. Glad? The German press had a field day dissecting the philosophical implications. Is it ever appropriate to express joy over the death of another human being, regardless of how evil they may have been? Doesn’t that statement bring you down to their level? This was certainly food for thought, but meanwhile, Americans were partying at Ground Zero.
As a German citizen with the right to vote, I consider it my civic duty to inform myself about current events. This has proven difficult, because German politics are exceedingly boring. The two major parties, the Christian Democratic Union [CDU] and the Social Democratic Party of Germany [SPD] are like the Democrats and Republicans, but without any of the divisive issues. Then there is the Free Democratic Party [FDP], which posits itself as the centrist alternative. Out on the fringes you have the disappointing Green Party, the incoherent Purple Party, and the recently popular Pirate Party, whose official platform is that they don’t understand what’s going on. This is kind of a funny shtick, but it gets old fast.
Even the scandals are tedious. The headline-grabbing story of 2011 was defense minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg’s resignation from office after it was discovered that he had plagiarized portions of his PhD. Perhaps you remember plagiarism as a big deal back when you were in high school. In the real world today, does it matter? In terms of commanding troops in Afghanistan, doesn’t it just show that he is an efficient manager who knows how to find the most expedient solutions for the problems confronting him? That would be the Mitt Romney argument.
Then there was President Christian Wulff, who resigned over some illegal real-estate shenanigans. (Why does Germany have a chancellor and a president? And what’s the difference? I have no idea, and no one seems able to explain it to me.) I attempted to research the specifics of the scandal for this article, but it is so unbelievably dull—unless you consider a phrase like “dubious home loan” sexy—that I was unable to maintain focus. Suffice to say that if U.S. politicians were held to these ethical standards, Capitol Hill would be cleared out.
I miss the United States, where it is widely understood that national politics is a media spectacle, designed to confuse and distract, but ultimately to entertain the populace. Regardless of whether Barack Obama or Mitt Romney becomes the next president, it’s going to be four more years of damn entertaining television. There will be plenty of things to bang your fist on the table about. In Germany, the politicians are characterless bureaucrats with grey suits and matching complexions, completely un-interesting, and so the population vents their copious anger by getting riled up about people riding bicycles on the sidewalk or how the neighbors sort their garbage. German politicians, I would urge you to consider your moral obligations in all of this: you are presiding over a pissed off people, and they should be pissed off at you, not each other. That’s what representative democracy is all about.
In all fairness, there has been one salacious scandal that did capture my attention. It involved the spokesmodel Vanessa Hessler, who as “Alice” represented the internet provider Alice DSL. Hessler is not one of those Belarusian-style superhuman supermodels, but rather the approachable girl-next-door, the type of woman you could imagine having a long-term relationship with. Thousands of Germans (myself included) were fooled by her looks into signing up with this crappy internet provider. As the face of the company, Vanessa Hessler became—yes, I’ll say it—the most hated woman in Germany. And so it was with glee that we watched her fall. During the Libyan uprising against Muammar Gaddafi, it came out that she had been the girlfriend of Gaddafi’s son Mutassim. She even went on record to defend the family, in a classic gaffe of the rich and out-of-touch: “(the Gaddafis) are being misrepresented, they are normal people,” she told an Italian magazine, revealing herself to be just as tyrannically evil as we’d always known her phone company to be. Hessler’s contract was quickly terminated, and she disappeared from sight. Regional politics have now gone back to the yawners of Eurozone bailout and credit rating woes. We need more people like Hessler on the scene, shaking things up, adding a bit of color to the drab black and white of the headlines. Perhaps she could re-start her career, take up politics, run for chancellor, or even president. Maybe the Pirate Party would have her? Now that would be entertaining.