Monday, November 08, 2004

Second Observation: The Meaning of Schäuble (I)

Interestingly, Wolfgang Schäuble came in for harsh criticism from some of the watchers of German media posting comments over on David’s Medienkritik for his performance on the pre-election episode of the Sabine Christiansen show from which I have cited extracts. The object of the criticism was an exchange with Wim Wenders. Schäuble had made some characteristically calm and conciliatory remarks about the United States, stressing that it was up to Germany, if it wanted to insist on “multilateralism”, to show that it was a “reliable” and “relevant” partner. He finished with the sensible observation that “we can’t fix much about America from Berlin, but the errors that we have made, here in Germany we can fix those.” This provoked from Wenders another flurry of non-sequiturs in the form of a series of manifestly rhetorical questions: “But Herr Schäuble,…how do you feel then as a Christian Democrat when this President [President Bush] so obviously pursues an explicitly Christian policy? How do you feel when you have a look at Christian social policy? How do you feel with this Social Darwinism, the survival of the fittest, that is the survival of the richest? ...What do you say, then, when this man says ‘God’, is that the same God to which you pray, to which we pray?” And so on. Schäuble’s mistake, it seems to me, was to attempt to respond rationally to this tirade. When confronted with the discourse ad delirium, I would recommend as the most prudent response a simple: “Excuse me? I understood nothing that you said.”

But Schäuble politely tried to respond, which required him to look for some rational kernel in the delirious shell of Wenders’s ravings. Schäuble interpreted this rational kernel to be a criticism of the influence of Christian fundamentalism in American politics and he thus answered: “What we are picking up from America in the fundamentalist protestant domain has little to do with my understanding of Christian Democratic politics. There is no monopoly in the matter. We have a different conception.” Schäuble then went on to elaborate a bit on this conception, noting that he had just come from a “Reformation Day” celebration in Pforzheim and again emphasizing dialogue rather than confrontation with America also in this area. In fact, despite the repeated references to “Christian policy” that indeed could give this aura to Wenders’s outburst, it is not clear that Wenders meant principally to be attacking religious fundamentalism in the States. It seems equally plausible that he thought he was being cute by presenting himself as a God-fearing man in order better to denounce the “Social Darwinist” policy that in the fevered recesses of his mind is laying waste to America. It is not impossible either - however contradictory this would be in light of the fact that your average “Fundamentalist” not only rejects “social Darwinism” but even the biological kind - that Wenders imagined he was somehow cleverly doing both. Be that as it may, given this context and from what I can make out from the transcripts, I really don’t find Schäuble’s response to be a cave in, as some of the commentators on David’s have suggested. So, a friendly and respectful shout out to those guys: it might be better to go easy on Schäuble on this one. Just ask yourselves: would you like to be closed in a room talking to Wenders?

Note 1: Many, many thanks again to our Germanophone French correspondent for the tremendous contribution in transcribing portions of the Christiansen show!

Note 2: To be followed by a third observation on “The Meaning of Schäuble (II)”.