Opinion: Politicians Should Grow Up | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 04.03.2005
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Opinion: Politicians Should Grow Up

Among Germany's leading political parties, the knives are out. Politicians across the spectrum have resorted to mudslinging and name-calling. DW's Uta Thofern has had enough.


He started it

Remember those respectable days of yore, when accusations of being stupid and irresponsible were the worst insults bandied around the Bundestag? There's been a lot of water under the bridge since then. The first to up the ante was Joschka Fischer, whose barbed remark "With all due respect, Mr Speaker, you're an asshole," soon became the stuff of legend.

But the foreign minister's candor pales in comparison to the no-holds-barred nastiness doled out on a daily basis in Berlin these days.

Soundbites over substance

Aschermittwoch mit Edmund Stoiber

Edmund Stoiber

Back when the Bundestag was "an arena for political jousting" -- as the very gentlemanly former Chancellor Helmut Schmidt (photo) once put it -- skirmishes were by no means unheard of. But in retrospect, the spats of the last few decades now seem tame and almost touching -- kindergarten quarrels rather than bar-room brawls.

Of course, it would be naïve to think there had never been any personal acrimony among Germany's political parties until now. Ad hominem arguments are nothing new, and exaggerating and simplifying issues is the least offensive habit politicians tend to have.

So long as the motivation is political conviction, letting rip in debate is perfectly acceptable. In fact, as an indication of heartfelt feeling, it can even lend the discussion greater credibility.

The problem is, the Bundestag is no longer where the action is. Policy is made by committees and commissions, with TV talk shows and press conferences replacing parliament as the country's primary political stage. What counts is a juicy sound-bite -- even one that's unnecessarily contentious. But ultimately, all this blithe belligerence puts the focus on the argument rather than the solution.

Can they stoop any lower?

Their relentless quest for the spotlight -- one eye always on the next election -- has prompted the politicians to lose sight of the broader picture.

Helmut Schmidt

Helmut Schmidt

While Edmund Stoiber (photo), leader of the opposition Christian Social Union (CSU), accused the government of boosting the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD) by failing to reduce unemployment, the government described the opposition's offer of help in combating joblessness as manipulative and morally suspect -- a short-cut to curtailing workers' rights.

Commenting on the recent visa affair, Jürgen Rüttgers from the Christian Democrats (CDU), accused Joschka Fischer of perpetrating "the worst breach of human rights since 1945," while the foreign minister himself retaliated against his detractors by indirectly calling them racist.

But it was probably Markus Söder (CSU) who took the biscuit when he said the chancellor was partly responsible for the recent murder of a child because he'd failed to tighten laws against sex offenders.

But is this muck-raking constructive?

A violation of democracy

In a country where 5.2 million are out of work and child poverty is on the rise, the public wants its politicians to knuckle down and provide some direction.

Ein Mann gähnt

Who really needs all this slander and scandal? If the politicians don't pull their socks up, the voters will lose interest and the winners will be the extremist parties.

Rising above it all is Reinhard Bütikofer, co-chairman of the Green Party. "Making systematic defamation a tool of politics is a violation of democracy," he has said. His colleagues should take heed.

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