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Gerhard Schroeder’s Double Standard By: Mark Milke
FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, July 17, 2003

My late grandparents on both sides came from German stock; some emigrated from 19th century Prussia, while others came from German regions in Ukraine and Poland in the 1920s. Thus, I am well aware of the charge that my ethnicity lacks a decent sense of humour. Too bad for those of us from that descent that German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder recently reinforced this stereotype with his own over-reaction vis-à-vis the Italians. Even more important is that the hyper-sensitivity from Herr Schroeder is ironic given the outrageous bile he and some of his colleagues have thrown in the not-too-distant past, i.e., during last fall’s election campaign in Germany.
For those who missed it, Stefano Stefani, Italy’s undersecretary for tourism resigned this past weekend after he called German tourists arrogant hyper-nationalists. This was preceded by a quip the previous week by the Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who, responding to a question from a German parliamentarian, told the questioner that he might be perfect in the role as a guard in an SS prison camp -- an apparent reference to "Hogan’s Heroes," and a generally poor joke.

The Berlusconi quip didn’t come off exactly as planned, and the remark from the junior Italian minister was a generalization, an especially dumb one coming from someone who was supposed to promote the country as a vacation destination to Deustchlanders. When Berlusconi refused to fire Stefani for the foible, Germany’s new "Mr. Sensitivity," Chancellor Schroeder, responded to the dust-up by telling the press that “In my government, (Stefani) wouldn’t have survived another hour as a junior minister.”

Well, that’s a new standard. Diligent German watchers will remember that this time last year Gerhard Schroeder’s Social Democratic party was headed for defeat in September elections. Polls in July 2002, put his party seven points behind his right-leaning opposition. But then salvation arrived in the form a brewing conflict with Iraq, and out of the deck came the Social Democrat’s anti-American card.

The worst offence occurred in early September when German Justice Minister Herta Daeubler-Gmelin compared George Bush to Adolf Hitler. She told a crowd of metalworkers, “Bush wants to divert attention from domestic political problems. It’s a method that is sometimes favoured. Hitler also did that.”

Funny, but at the time, it sounded as if one of Schroeder’s ministers cast aspersions on a man’s character and assumed the worst possible motivation in George Bush for going after Saddam Hussein. And by linking Bush to Hitler in terms of his supposed motivations, Ms. Daeubler-Gmelin gave an over-the-top and simplistic analysis of the complexities of political motivations.

The outrageous slur, from a full-fledged cabinet minister, possesses far more gravity than a dumb quip from a junior Italian minister engaging in a crude generalization. Indeed, one may wonder whether the election-eve anti-American sentiment from Daeubler-Gmelin and others had something to do with the Social Democrats' own attempt to "divert attention from domestic political problems," like their poor performance in renewing Germany’s economy.

So how did this year’s Chancellor of Prudent Diplomatic Relations react then? As gently as possible. Ms. Daeubler-Gmelin said she would not serve in the next post-election German cabinet, a sign of some possible behind-the-scenes pushing. But there was no public rebuke of her comments from Gerhard Schroeder, nor did he exactly jump to fire her -- to use his own new standard. He instead sent a letter to the White House that was more defensive than apologetic, claiming she was misquoted. And Daeubler-Gmelin argued publicly that she didn’t compare Bush to Hitler and his Nazis, “just their methods.” What a relief.

In Schroeder's world, it is fine to slur a fellow democratic world leader by saying his methods are Hitleresque, but comparing a low-ranking parliamentarian to Colonel Klink should be a capital crime. 
One may also wonder how we are to separate a politician from his “methods,” anyway? Isn’t a rather large part of the reason we (rightly) think Hitler was evil because of his “methods"?   
Unfortunately, this is not the only case in which Schroeder's hypocrisy has shone thorugh. The same month as his Justice Minister made these comments, Schroeder failed to publicly rebuke former Defense Minister Rudolph Scharping - himself a prominent Social Democrat - for anti-Semitic comments reported by William Safire. Scharping told a Hamburg audience that Bush only wanted to overthrow Saddam Hussein to “please a powerful  perhaps overly powerful -- Jewish lobby.” Given German sensitivities on the topic, Scharping later denied making the remark, and Schroeder left the matter without further comment.  The Chancellor was hardly in a hurry to set a standard for decorum and diplomatic niceness with Washington by firing his Justice Minister in the middle of an election campaign, and nor did he publicly slap down Scharping.  

Similar to his Justice Minister’s nasty little comparison, Schroeder himself appealed to the anti-American Left in his country during last year’s election by using similar imagery from his country’s Nazi past, saying he would not “click his heels” to do Washington’s bidding in Iraq. (Classy comparison there, Rudolph.) He has never even apologized for his ridiculous remark. 

Mindless anti-Americanism (as opposed to legitimate disagreements with a long-standing ally) and anti-Jewish sentiment is tragically nothing new in Germany, but given Schroeder’s new role as the EU's "Sensitivity Czar," his own double-standards should discredit him. Or perhaps he would like to offer his resignation?

Mark Milke is author of Tax Me I’m Canadian -- Your Money and How Politicians Spend It

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