In Denver, German Social Democrats Listen to Obama and Learn | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 27.08.2008
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In Denver, German Social Democrats Listen to Obama and Learn

Currently in Denver to get some strategy lessons from the Democratic National Convention, a top official for Germany's Social Democrats told DW that he's also there to see what an Obama victory would mean for Germany.

A delegate from Minerva, Ohio, wears a hat decorated with a sign promoting both Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., at the Democratic National Convention in Denver,

The Democratic Convention: a great show

Hubertus Heil, 35, is general secretary of Germany's Social Democratic Party (SPD) and a member of the German parliament.

Deutsche Welle: Why did you come to Denver?

Hubertus Heil: We are here to observe the Democratic National Convention, not so much to watch the show -- interesting as it is -- as to talk to people in order to find out what an administration led by Barack Obama would mean in terms of foreign, security, economic and environmental policy. Obviously it would have an effect on German politics, and that is why we are here.

What conclusions have you reached so far?

Obviously, a lot remains unclear. The candidate here to be nominated is very promising, to Europe and Germany, but his agenda is still unclear. Take the question of Afghanistan or the environment. These are issues we are discussing, and it is apparent that the Democratic Party, and especially the unions supporting the party, have a keen political interest in helping steer globalization -- for example by addressing labor standards around the world.

As you just mentioned, the convention is also a lot about show. What has made most impression on you so far?

Kurt Beck speaking at the SPD party conference

The SPD party conventions are much duller affairs

It's very impressive to see how much the city of Denver identifies with the Democratic Convention. It's an extraordinary and very media-savvy show, as is standard practice in the US. It couldn't be done in Germany, that's obvious, but it's very interesting to see how it works and to witness this political culture first-hand, and the US is in fact a very old democracy.

Have you met Barack Obama yet?

No. I saw him speak at the Victory Column in Berlin -- but I wouldn't call that 'meeting' him.

Do you think he would make a good Social Democratic chancellor?

No, because we have a very different political system. The US has a presidential system. We have a parliamentary democracy, which means every country needs candidates that fit the system. But don't worry, we'll find a candidate (for the chancellorship).

Which lessons will you have learned from the Democratic Convention that could be applied to the next SPD convention in Germany?

Nothing that's specifically relevant for the convention. As I said, we have a different political culture, including party structure. The SPD is a people's party, a member's party, while the Democrats in the US are organized differently, particularly during election campaigns. We're very interested in the online election campaign the party has been running, and the way it has managed to reach so many young people; how it's organized grassroots campaigns and recruited a lot of volunteers. We can learn more from the technique than the agenda.

How much information can be gleaned from Barack Obama's campaign team?

Hubertus Heil

Hubertus Heil

You can learn a lot from talking to advisers, as well as to senators and congress members. But obviously they are going to play their cards close to their chest. They'll be keeping most things to themselves. They'll also develop voter mobilization strategies for the final weeks of the campaign at the very last minute. We'll see.

There's a lot of talk here at the convention of rifts -- Barack Obama on one side, Hillary Clinton on the other. The party is hoping the convention will help it unify. Is there anything you can learn here that might help the SDP back home?

As I said, every party needs to work within its own political culture. But it will be interesting to see if Barack Obama can mange to win the blue-collar vote, the support of the working classes. In Germany it's obviously very important to reach the people who work hard and play by the rules. But that is as far as it goes.

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