Angela Merkel is back in, and so, presumably, Europe’s austerity course will continue unchanged. There were a few bits of bright news in the election – the increasingly right-wing liberal/libertarian Free Democratic Party was kicked out of the Bundestag entirely, and Merkel didn’t get an absolute majority so she will either have to govern in a minority situation (a rare choice in the coalition-oriented German system) or find some party to govern with. The chances are good that will be the Social Democrats, but the jury is out on whether being forced to govern with the SPD will be a good thing or a bad thing, as German Social Democrats have been more willing to play along with austerity politics than resist. If Peer Steinbrück merely returns to his 2005-2009 role as Merkel’s austerity henchmen, the already declining SPD may completely evaporate in terms of public support, as most socialist/social democratic voters would prefer to vote for an anti-austerity party if they vote.
The Left Party came in third and the Greens came in fourth, both at around 8% of the vote. The Left Party at least provided a vehicle for people not to go along with Merkel, although its abstentionist policy with regard to forming coalitions meant voters for that party were voting for non-compliance with government rather than changing government. Disappointingly, the Greens, which polls had doing considerably better, still came up short on election day. A Green alternative, even if it didn’t carry the election, could have at least signaled a different direction either than Merkel’s austerity or the weak opposition of the SPD.
A disturbing “euro-skeptic” challenger party, Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) nearly cleared the electoral hurdle to enter the Bundestag as a party. With Merkel as a symbol of the Euro-zone, of course, the European Union will be a convenient punching bag for pseudo-populist Europeans, who will argue it is the “big government” institution responsible for their economic pain, instead of an institution that has now long united countries that once were at constant war with each other.
Along with the news about the recent Australian election, in which Australian voters turfed a Labor Party that had governed their country well and largely insulated them from the economic insanity experienced elsewhere in the world, this news bodes poorly for the idea that people are going to vote in governments that are helpful rather than part of the problem.
The thing is – what we’re really seeing is that Western societies are caught between being countries properly disposed to be responsive to the economic chaos on the march in the world around them and being countries composed of the holders of TV remotes, who honestly believe that all they have to do is click to change the channel when bad things happen. If one group of politicians isn’t perfect, you click your remote and send in another group of politicians…then when they turn out to be even worse, you click your remote to mute all politicians.
Sorry, folks, the crisis is on all the channels, and your clicker won’t protect you from seeing it.
You either have to accept that austerity politicians like Merkel are the only thing possible, or _you_ have to make the alternative. Not from your couch, either.