Guttenberg, Hamburg and Germany’s Mood Swing

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Guttenberg, Hamburg and Germany’s Mood Swing

Hamburg’s elections reveal a swing against Germany’s coalition government.

As most analysts had predicted, Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats lost heavily in the weekend elections in the city-state of Hamburg. This is the first in a series of tests the chancellor’s party faces in a battery of state elections between now and September.

There can be no doubt that the results in Hamburg herald significant changes in the mood of the electorate in Germany.

Chancellor Merkel is facing a triple whammy right now: the hammering of her party at Hamburg’s elections, the outcry in Europe over German determination to enact control over EU economies, and the current attack on the most popular rising political star in her struggling coalition, Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg.

Added to this is the weekend attempt by neo-Nazis to show their flag in Dresden and the chaos this engendered with the left’s resistance.

Something is stirring in the German heart.

This is a nation that cries out for strong leadership amid times of geopolitical dislocation. It is significant that despite the obviously politically oriented smear campaign centered on Defense Minister Guttenberg, his popularity with the national electorate remains high. This points to the average German perceiving that the young Bavarian baron has what it takes to provide determined leadership in times of global disruption, especially when national security becomes an issue as it is with the fires of instability lit across northern Africa over the past weeks.

Leftists in Germany are a struggling minority, fighting for their political survival. They are extremely weak on foreign policy in particular, a real strength possessed by Guttenberg, who is his party’s foreign-policy specialist. In the foreign-policy field, Guttenberg is streets ahead of Germany’s dismally performing foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle.

No surprise then that the left would seize on the chancellor’s baronial poster boy as a target for their venom.

If there’s one thing leftists despise, it’s the aristocracy. Proud of their plebeian ways, and always intent on dismantling anything smacking of conservative success, leftists have a history of mudslinging when caught on the back foot.

That the aristocratic Baron Guttenberg stands head and shoulders above the minions of the left by any measure is obvious to any observer of German politics and society. Full well recognizing this, a couple of months ago Guttenberg’s political enemies started a dirty tricks campaign against his rising popularity.

In essence, this is not a new campaign. For no sooner had the bright young Christian Socialist taken on the Defense Ministry in Angela Merkel’s government in October 2009 than the Kunduz affair broke.

When it seemed that efforts by Guttenberg’s political enemies to use that situation to destroy his political career failed, they then went digging for dirt. Hoping they had hit real pay dirt, in just one week in January they publicized three separate instances that appeared to play negatively against the defense minister.

But this was not enough. During the past week, a leftist university professor has sought to bring charges of plagiarism against Guttenberg in relation to his doctoral thesis. The media is having a field day with this one as they smell blood ahead of those crucial German state elections.

Again, very predictably, the organs of the press and media that espouse views contrary to those of the Christian Socialist Guttenberg are baying loudest for his blood. But there are a few sane voices being heard amid the melee.

“Being an aristocrat in the csu party is not easy. The Christian Socialist Union [Bavarian sister party in coalition with Chancellor Merkel’s Christian Democrats] lives from the power which thrives from its polling booths, not by baronial titles. … The csu emerged after the war as an anti-monarchical-based movement. There was and exists hidden hostility [against the aristocracy]” (Welt Online, February 13; translation ours).

In the murky world of politics, one cannot even discount political enemies and competitors from within his own party, the Christian Socialists, or competitors from Chancellor Merkel’s cdu, being prepared to besmirch Guttenberg’s name.

But if there’s one thing the baron is, it is a survivor, and he’s still Germany’s most popular politician.

“[H]e has too many admirers to offer a broad target for attack; however, nothing comes without effort in the long run. Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg does not intend to fail. He wants to honor an 800-year-old family name and the tradition which comes along with such a name, not only for the sake of himself and not only on his own account” (ibid.).

One of Guttenberg’s greatest saving graces amid all the mudslinging is what he represents to a nation seeking an identity that stands clear of its Nazi past. Today’s Germany is gaining a new appreciation for its pre-World War i style of leadership, when aristocratic Prussians set a tone admired throughout the world. Even Churchill commented on the disciplined, regal bearing and the grace of the social manners of Kaiser Wilhelm.

Guttenberg comes from an eight-century-long dynasty embedded in imperial heritage, traditions and manners. Thus it is that he bears the barbs of his enemies without flinching, one of the most admired of his characteristics.

The minister of defense presents a real challenge to his enemies in particular within his own party and the coalition. They need his populism to aid their prospects in the upcoming elections, even though his popularity can present a threat to the political future of some, such as Vice Chancellor Guido Westerwelle, whose poll ratings could hardly be lower.

Even Guttenberg’s csu party chief, Horst Seehofer, feels the young aristocrat nipping at his heels for the party leadership. This is not to say that the chancellor herself has not felt the threat of Guttenberg’s blitzkrieg rise to public popularity even to the point of being touted as a future chancellor.

Thus it is that the book is wide open when it comes to picking the real sources behind these latest attacks on young Baron Guttenberg.

In point of fact, this latest imbroglio is only toughening up Guttenberg for the many political battles that lie ahead in his career. So far he has proven he’s up to the challenge.

Thumbing his nose at his enemies, Guttenberg boarded a plane last week and flew off on his ninth political sortie to Afghanistan. This is a sharp young politician who knows where he needs his real support: with the troops he represents as Germany’s minister of defense. As if to make a point, he slept with the troops on the front line of their combat zone.

Germany hankers for a strong leader in times of increasing global strife. As Merkel’s Christian Democrats lick their wounds following the pasting received in the weekend elections in Hamburg, the chancellor would do well to consider backing in the strongest terms her major political asset—Baron Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg. He’s the only bright spot in her rather dismal coalition.

Don’t write Guttenberg off. He’s made of the right stuff for this moment in Germany’s history. A few political battle scars could be just what the electorate needs to be assured of that reality.