Friday, March 23, 2012

The Gauck Mania Continues

I don’t know how much longer I’m going to be a Gauck-maniac.   Thought my enthusiasm might ebb by now, but I just watched his first speech before the Bundestag, and my admiration has only risen.  I have a weakness for rhetoric and great speakers, but still…
I’m also an internet-maniac – no news there.  I knew when I got up this morning that, since it was afternoon in Germany, Gauck had probably given his first Bundestag address by now, so I went to YouTube, typed in “Gauck Rede” (Gauck speech) and there it was, right at the top – “Erste Rede” (first speech).  Just checked.  It’s now down to position #15.  Apparently this speech has gotten people interested in other speeches of his. 

In reading the commentary on his speech it took no time at all to find his detractors.  Just more moral “Kanzelgesülze” (pulpit  drivel), snarks one reader.  Others complained that he was making money off his speech tours.  Many take exception to having a clergyman as president.  Still others (my people, I have to admit) squirm over the prospect of having not one, but two, conservatives as head of state and head of government.  “The revenge of the German Democratic Republic” rails one idiot, entirely missing the point that neither Merkel nor Gauck “represent” the former DDR.  They are two of its most notable misfits.

One person complained about the way a president is elected.  He or she is selected by a special commission of notables, including all the members of the Bundestag.  “It’s not democratic,” the person complained.  It’s comforting, I suppose, to note that it’s not only in the U.S. where people do not understand how representative democracies work and that turning all decisions over to everybody town meeting style is not the only way to go – and not even a good way to go, necessarily.

That stuff says so much more about the deliverer of the criticism than it does of Gauck himself, of course.  I’m chuckling to myself regularly these days that I’m waxing so enthusiastic about a Lutheran preacher.  What happened to my proclivity to fling doodoo first and ask questions later at organized religion?   Being preached at is nothing new for  Americans, of course.  We are cursed by mindless evangelicalism and the arrogance of the Roman Catholic hierarchy.  Preaching morality spills out of the churches and into the common space as the stuff of public policy.  “Values voters” we call them.  Reminds me of that line falsely attributed to Goebbels – “When I hear the word culture I reach for my gun.”  (It comes from a play, and it was “I reach for my Browning.” – for you trivia fans).  Anyway, I don’t go for guns, so when I hear “values voters” I reach for an airsickness bag.

But listen to this guy when he talks of values.  “I’ll never miss voting in an election as long as I live.”  These are not values a preacher shouts down on you from on high – shame on you homosexuals, shame on you women who enjoy sex….  They are values you know came from living under a totalitarian regime, values from bitter personal experience.  Urging fellow citizens to participate in democracy, rather than surrender to cynicism and despair.  Pulpit drivel?  Could you possibly get it more wrong?

Others are afraid he’s going to be too conservative.  I understand that, too.  Lots of East European immigrants came to America and went straight into the Republican Party because they were persuaded only the militaristic confrontational stance of the Republicans would do the trick – so agonizing was their time under the communists.
One notes in passing that the other contender in the presidential race was a Nazi hunter.  You might fear, if she had been elected, that there would be too great a swing to the left.  Critics of these candidates do a terrible disservice to both of them with charges like these, and overlook the fact that their real goals are to prevent a return of totalitarianism of whatever stripe.

I have started into Gauck’s memoires, Winter im Sommer, Frühling im Herbst (Winter in Summer, Spring in Fall),  (another technical wonder – I heard the title, went to Amazon and found it on Kindle - from hearing the title to reading the book took about five minutes.)  After his father was “abgeholt” (taken away) – he makes a point of saying they always used abgeholt, and never verhaftet (arrested) – his sister came home one day with Christmas presents she had gotten from the youth group, the Pioneers.  His Aunt Hilde took them, threw them on the floor and stepped on them.  “If somebody asks you when you’re going to join the Pioneers,” his mother told him, “You tell them when we know where father is and when he’s coming home.”  Gauck’s hostility to communism may have an intellectual component, but this tells you, at least, that it was nurtured in bitter personal experience.  That he should spend his life telling his story should come as no surprise.

Gauck’s inaugural address to the Bundestag was the shortest on record, just over twenty minutes start to finish.  He touches all the bases – European unity, the radical right and terrorism, the responsibilities of citizens in a democracy.  But he clearly is into giving encouragement over warning, the important distinction being the focus on the future and a sense of optimism.

Hope he can keep it up.  The cynics will tell you he has no real power.  He’s just a figurehead.

Yes, of course.  At one point in the speech he faced Christian Wulff, the former president, who had just vacated the office in disgrace that Gauck was now taking over.  Gauck addressed him personally and thanked him for his work in assuring that minorities in Germany will feel as much at home as anybody else.  That’s not two, but three birds with one stone, as I see it.   He separates the modern German state from the two dictatorships the world associates with it, where minorities were persecuted.  He singles out this man Christian Wulff as having accomplishments worth recognizing.  And he calls attention to  the smoothness of the transition from one leader to the next in a democracy.   Despite the scandal, he does this in a way that lends a full measure of dignity to the process.

Not a bad start, I would say.

picture credit: Berliner Morgenpost:

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