Are Germans now more American than we are? As we face several more weeks of ludicrously irresponsible hostage-taking politics driven by tea-party radicalism, we'd do well to study how postwar Germany — yes, encouraged by the United States — has embraced the sort of consensual, problem-solving politics for which we were once famous.
On Sept. 22, Chancellor Angela Merkel won an extraordinary personal victory in Germany's elections, leading her Christian Democratic Union to one of its best results in a half-century. The election created some difficulties for her and for Europe, but no one should deny Merkel the accolades she deserves for political genius, toughness and what Chase Gummer in the American Prospect cleverly called her “boring brilliance.”
You can take issue with some of her policies, notably her insistence on austerity in southern Europe, which is suffering from massive joblessness and economic contraction. As Martin Wolf wrote recently in the Financial Times, the danger is of a Germany that “exports bankruptcy and unemployment.” While Merkel may have kept the euro alive by pushing relief for Europe's south about as far as German public opinion would accept, Wolf's worries are well-placed.
But let's focus for now on public policy inside Germany, which has proved that capitalism with strong social protections works. The Christian Democrats call it “the social market,” a system that has been enhanced and reformed over the years by both Merkel's party and the center-left Social Democrats.
The funny thing is that this moderate form of progressive, bring-people-together politics was what the United States and its allies had in mind for Germany when they worked with German leaders, especially Christian Democrat Konrad Adenauer, to create a post-Nazi state. The goal was to avoid the extremism and polarization that destroyed the pre-World War II Weimar Republic and led to Hitler's seizure of power.