December 4, 2013
Should we look to Germany for a better way to organize our government?
Our parents and grandparents from the “Greatest Generation” would be shocked at the idea that the country they fought so hard to defeat would have the kind of representative and effective government that any American would want to copy.
But let’s look at what has happened in the aftermath of the recent national elections in both countries.
In our country, the two major political parties battled it out, electing a president from the Democratic Party and a divided legislative body.
While the Electoral College results gave Democrat Barack Obama a decisive (332-206) victory, the reported popular vote was much closer: 65,915,796 to 60,933,500, or 51.1 percent to 47.2 percent.
The House of Representatives’ total popular vote, although much closer, also favored the Democrats by 59,967,096 votes to 58,523,501 votes for Republican candidates, or 48.9 percent to 47.7 percent. Nevertheless, the Republicans won a decisive victory in the number of seats, 234 to 201 for Democrats.
The closeness of the U.S. popular vote last year showed Americans sharply divided on which political party they would choose to lead their government. But it would be hard to argue that they intended to favor the confrontational governmental logjam that resulted from their vote.
Americans are rightfully proud of the complicated system of checks and balances the drafters of our Constitution designed.
But when those checks and balances combine with the hard-line partisanship of both political parties to cripple the government’s ability to function effectively, we might swallow our pride and look for ideas about how to make our system work better.
Like our 2012 elections, Germany’s 2013 elections were hard-fought. The results, however, were more decisive. In the multiparty election, Angela Merkel’s moderate conservative Christian Democrats won 41.5 percent of the popular vote compared with 25.7 percent won by their major competitor, the Social Democrats.
The press characterized the results as a landside victory for Merkel’s party, but with only 311 seats, she was five seats short of a majority in the German parliament.
The center-left Social Democrats won only 193 seats. But if they had been willing to combine with the Green Party, which won 63 seats, and the far left party known as The Left, which won 64 seats, they could have put together a working majority and led the German government.
Instead of trying to lead a hard-left government, the Social Democrats have tentatively opted to join a “grand coalition” led by Merkel. Her conservative party has moved toward the center, and its more moderate position gave it greater voter appeal across the German electorate.
Meanwhile, the Social Democrats have also moved toward the middle, away from the hard-left parties. Their labor union and other liberal supporters may be skeptical of the partnership with Merkel. But they have already gained from their conservative partner a commitment for a minimum wage of $11.50 (8.50 euros) an hour and a lower social security retirement age for some workers. Merkel’s plans to invest in education, infrastructure projects, and non-nuclear energy would have been viewed as concessions to the Social Democrats had Merkel not already made them a part of her party’s platform.
Assuming the Social Democrats give final approval, Germany is in line for several years of moderately conservative government, one that is stable and able to function decisively when necessary, under a coalition that represents more than two-thirds of the German voters.
That is something even the most patriotic American could envy.