Monday, March 19, 2012

"Yes, We Gauck!"

The German newspaper Bild printed this headline this morning*, apparently trying to capture some of the enthusiasm Americans felt with the election of Barack Obama.  The comparison is there to be made.  There is a euphoria in Germany, the likes of which I don’t think I’ve ever seen outside of soccer.  People of all stripes are rallying round the election of this Lutheran minister as President of the Federal Republic.  With considerable risk.  Describes himself as a liberal conservative.  Speaks his mind so unabashedly that he is fully expected to piss off just about everybody sooner or later.  An anti-politician.  A man so rare in politics people are having trouble believing he’s for real.

What a delight to be able to put aside the ridiculous for a moment and dwell on the sublime.  OK, maybe I exaggerate.   Maybe I’ll eat my words one day.  But not today.  Today I’m feeling real good about what’s going on in Germany and wishing we could be following our best instincts, as they seem to be, and not whatever it is we are doing with this aspirin between your legs world we’re mired in.

I mean really.  Forgive the German flag-waving for a moment and bear with me.  (And apologies to all of you who know all this stuff already – I’m writing for my friends who don’t.)  Joachim Gauck’s father was sent to Siberia.  Because Gauck grew up under a communist regime and his father had pissed off the powers, Gauck didn’t get to study journalism as he wanted to.  He went into the church because it was a path open to him when so many paths were closed.  And then, while so many, including his own children, ran off to the West, he stayed and became spokesperson for the resistance movement, the New Forum, in the GDR, seeing to it that the transition was peaceful and orderly when the wall came down.
But he didn’t stop there.  He then went to work for the next decade in the new united Germany as First Federal Commissioner for the Stasi (East German Secret Police) Archives.  He continues to be a thorn in the side of the left for ignoring the crimes of the communists.

The more you look into his past, his books and public statements, the more you realize there is justification for the hyperbole heaped upon him.   The British paper the Independent just today called him “Germany’s answer to Nelson Mandela.”  A few weeks ago the Italian paper Corriere della Sera called him L' «Havel tedesco» - the “German (Václav) Havel.”   Like Havel in the Czech Republic and Lech Wałęsa in Poland, he has graduated from protester against the old system to leader of the new.  No wonder the Bild Zeitung wants, with this silly “Yes, We Gauck” slogan to compare him with Barack Obama, and no wonder the goofiness has caught on. 

I won’t go into his accomplishments – they are everywhere available for assessment.  I just want to climb on the bandwagon for the moment.  He will disappoint, no doubt.  Obama certainly has.  But I hope, like Obama did (and to many still does), he will help keep us focused on this moment and remind us that the sun can come out and things can be all right for a while.

OK, so it isn’t sporting these days to compare what’s going on in Germany with what’s going on in America, but give me a break.    I’ve been listening till my teeth chatter for weeks to the media coverage of the nastiness of the Republican infighting over who is to be their party’s candidate for president.  And then I tune in and see how Germany does it and I want to weep.  The contrast couldn’t be more stark.  Let me ride the wave.

I mean really.  Look what has been going on here lately in the US of A.   Our media – all of them – NPR as well as Fox – have made much of the fact that Santorum is giving Romney a run for his money.   How?  By winning in Alabama and Mississippi.  And this means what, exactly?  Are we not supposed to notice that Alabama is the state where 14% of the Republican voters think Obama is a Christian and 45% think he’s a Muslim? And another 41% aren’t sure

And that compared to their neighbors to the west, Alabamans are downright enlightened?  In Mississippi, it’s only 12% of Republican voters who think Obama is a Christian and 52% think he’s a Muslim.  67% in Alabama think interracial marriage should be legal.  In Mississippi, it’s only 54%.

There’s so much more dumb stuff.  There’s evolution, and global warming, and the demonizing of Europe and the U.N.  Not just by the good folk of Hoot’n’Hollar, East Jesus and Bumf*ck,  but by the candidates who butter their bread with this ignorance.

Rachel Maddow, always a good source for the absurd in American politics, reported on these goings on yesterday: 

The man paying for Santorum to be a Republican candidate is telling women to put aspirin between their knees if they don't want to get pregnant and Pennsylvania is pushing for a law that would force women to look at a screen while they stick a camera in their vaginas and show them there's a little Roman Catholic or Southern Baptist soul down there whom they are about to murder.  Pennsylvania's governor doesn't think it's that bad.  After all, he says, the women could shut their eyes if they wanted to.

In Kansas a bill is just out of committee that would force doctors to read their patients asking for an abortion a statement, written by legislators, telling women that abortions are linked to breast cancer.  That’s not true.  Doctors know it’s not true, but if they don’t read the statement written by their state legislature they are breaking the law.

And that’s not all.  If a doctor in Kansas knows there’s a problem with a pregnancy, and the doctor suspects that if he tells the patient about it she will get an abortion, he is required by law not to tell the patient about the problem she is experiencing.  Oklahoma and Arizona are following suit.

A bill has just passed the House in Arizona which permits employers to ask employees why they are asking for contraceptives on the grounds women might be wanting to avoid pregnancy.

In Virginia, where ultrasounds are already the law, somebody asked, since the procedure is mandatory, if the state would then please pay for it.  Governor McDonnell and Virginia Republicans said no.  It would not only be required; women would be required to pay for it.

These are not isolated cases.  On the national level, the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy is claiming the laws requiring Catholic-run institutions to continue to include birth control information in their health plans is an attack on the Catholic Church.  98% of American Catholics in the actual church practice birth control, but the official Church claims the state’s encouragement of birth control information is all about limiting religion.

Americans are on the verge of selling Afghan women down the river in order to make peace with the Taliban.  A “lesser evil.”  American fundamentalist missionaries have stirred Ugandans up to the point where they were actually pushing for execution of homosexuals at one point.  And women in America’s heartland are watching their right to an abortion granted decades ago being whittled away, and even their rights to knowledge about contraception being limited.  We are moving backward in time, back to a time when advice to keep women barefoot and pregnant was a joke, but in some cases you weren’t too sure.

Patriarchal religion, say the liberals.  It’s all about Protestant fundamentalists and the Catholic hierarchy imposing their ways on the land.  Religion is the culprit.

And then you look at Germany, where they only today elected a clergyman as president of the nation.  And sitting next to him is this lovely woman named Daniela Schadt who is identified as his "Lebensgefährtin" (life partner) – not his wife.  And she will be moving into Bellevue, the Presidential palace, with him, and Germans think that’s just fine – she looks like she’ll be a marvelous First Lady.**

In Germany, not only is Guido Westerwelle, the Foreign Minister, gay, but when a leader of a foreign nation tries to put him down for that, German officialdom comes to his aid.   Klaus Wowereit, Berlin’s mayor, is also gay and there is (idle) talk about making him chancellor.  For that matter, until 2010, so was Hamburg’s mayor, Carl-Friedrich Arp Ole Freiherr von Beust.  He is half-Jewish as well.  

But I digress.  It's just that here in freedom land, as we like to call it, our Republican Party is dedicated to keeping gays from marrying because of what they say it will do to the institution of marriage.  Meanwhile we have to look at the face of Newt Gingrich on the stage with them, also running for President, a man who not once, but twice, divorced and married the woman he was having an affair with without the knowledge of his wife du jour.

In Germany, where the biggest threats of the twentieth century were communism and fascism, the man they just elected president has made a career of fighting communism.   And Beate Klarsfeld, the woman he beat out, who was number two contender for the job, spent her career fighting the Nazis.  She and her husband hunted down Klaus Barbie, among other pursuits.  Two folk at the top with worthy top priorities, in other words.  

Over here in the land that sneers at them there socialists, one of our Republican candidates is a multimillionaire who made his money downsizing companies and putting thousands out of work, and two others are kept in the race thanks to single individual billionaire supporters.  Number Two in the Republican race has as his two chief claims to fame that he has consistently resisted gay rights and that he thinks most of the sex acts that take place in America are acts of sin.

I’m happy that the Black, Red and Gold flag is flying so proudly today, but Jeez Louise, does Old Glory have to look so faded and torn?

*Apologies.  Wrote this yesterday but thanks to google snafus didn’t get to post it till this morning.
** Don't want to be too cool about it.  Gauck is still married to his wife, from whom he is separated.  He and Daniela have had a long-distance relationship for ten years.  But the point is she is giving up her job as journalist in Nürnberg to take on the role of First Lady.  The divorce has yet to take place.  It's the ordering of these priorities that I find interesting.



:: doris said...

Hallo Alan! Thoroughly enjoyed reading this blog entry! Thank you!
:: doris

Daniela said...

Danke Alan - es gibt nichts hinzuzufügen - Du hast es wunderbar erklärt!