Despite his general insusceptibility to what he calls the “doubt worm,” in the end, the ceaseless criticism from the left did in fact influence Helmut Kohl in these areas. The standard accusation was: social indifference. Ultimately more disposed to consensus than his sometimes barking manner would suggest, the chancellor at times spoke and acted too indecisively. His closeness to [labor minister Norbert] Blüm might have had dire effects in this regard, because it shifted social solidarity to centralized redistribution by the government, rather than creating the prerequisite for prosperity, jobs, and social balance through increased performance incentives.
If Helmut Kohl had acted with greater resolve at the beginning of his last term in office, he could have reaped the benefits himself and probably would have been reelected. But he didn’t stumble over social indifference; rather, it was too much social romanticism that tripped him up.
Gerhard Schröder now has to take over where Helmut Kohl prematurely stopped. Whether Schröder will turn into a “Clintonblair” is doubtful. The differences are evident: Blair changed his party; Schröder did not. Schröder has Lafontaine, a traditional leftist, behind and above him; Clinton does not. And both Blair and Clinton had predecessors who created a framework for economic policy that both statesmen could profit from. Not so Schröder. Schröder had no Reagan or Thatcher, whose strict market economy course he could advance in a socially refined manner. Schröder has to do the unpopular work himself.
There are two options here: He can commit the reform savagery that Kohl never committed (or never could commit on account of the Bundesrat blockade) at the very beginning of his term and to the utter horror of his party. That would stabilize the country and his position. Or he can get caught in Lafontaine’s maelstrom. That would cut Germany off from globalization and turn it into a crisis region.
What Germany needs in particular in the coming years in the way of domestic policy is an investment-promoting and job-creating tax cut, a fundamental reform of the social system, a regulation of immigration that is compatible with human rights, a victim-oriented security policy, and performance-based education reform.
We will judge the SPD by [shadow economics minister Jost] Stollmann. Is it true that people who voted for Schröder will end up with Lafontaine? If Lafontaine – in the name of the traditional left-wing base of the party – eliminates the businessman Stollmann as the modernizer of the SPD, then the fears of many will have come true: Stollmann was a PR gag and Schröder, the media personality, a Trojan horse. Or else Gerhard Schröder will be the new strongman to lead Germany into the Berlin Republic, into a united Europe, and into the century of globalization.
Source: Mathias Döpfner, “Sieg der Achtundsechziger” [“The Victory of the 1968 Generation”], Die Welt, September 28, 1998.
Translation: Allison Brown