Saturday, June 1, 2019

Social Democracy's Dead Cat Bounce (Except They Didn't Get the Bounce!)

The German SPD has looked in terminal decline for awhile, bereft of ideas and signed up for yet another stint as the junior partner in a CDU-led grand coalition. In the recent EU elections, the SPD polled a dreadful 16 percent, behind not just the CDU but also the Greens. And check out this new general election polling result, where the SPD is way, way behind the Greens, who are actually leading the poll (h/t John Judis).
The ins and outs of the sad tale are well-covered in this article on Jacobin by Loren Balhorn. Balhorn is a Die Linke (Left Party) guy but his take is quite fair (he describes his own party as being "trapped in the protest party ghetto"--also fair).
"The Social Democrats lean hard on “more Europe” as the solution to Germany’s problems, and are far more likely to praise French president Emmanuel Macron than defend the leader of their British sister party, Jeremy Corbyn. They banked on selling themselves as a stable, mildly progressive bulwark against creeping right-wing populism but seem to have lost this role to the Greens, who broke 20 percent in a nationwide election for the first time. The looks on the faces of party chairwoman Andrea Nahles and “wholeheartedly European” top candidate Katarina Barley Sunday night were ones of defeat, out of luck and bereft of ideas for what to do next.
Catastrophic as the election may have been, it was anything but unexpected. The Social Democrats have been lumbering from one defeat to the next for nearly two decades, their toxic brand of what Oliver Nachtwey calls “politics without politics” costing them hundreds of thousands of members and millions of voters. The European elections were merely the latest confirmation of a seemingly unstoppable downward spiral for what was once the proudest, strongest socialist party on earth.....
At the risk of oversimplifying things, the SPD in 2019 has a serious credibility problem. The Social Democrats have spent nine of the last fourteen years carrying water for Angela Merkel’s grand coalition in Berlin, burning through eight different leaders in the process. It seems whoever dares take up the mantle, whether party stalwart Sigmar Gabriel or the most recent disappointment Martin Schulz, puts their entire political career at risk. What’s left of the SPD’s base is sick and tired of the coalition, and anyone who associates themselves with it soon becomes a political liability to be disposed of after the next electoral defeat and superficial attempt at rebooting the party.
Despite noises from the top about internal “renewal” and restoring Social Democratic credibility on social justice issues, little changes in policy terms — and cannot change as long the SPD remains the junior partner of the Christian Democrats (CDU).....
In practical terms the SPD’s presence in government perhaps stopped the CDU from pushing the occasional spending cut, moderated its line on a few social questions, and bolstered organized labor’s position at the negotiating table during the economic crisis in 2008. But these nuances of high politics are lost on the wider electorate, which after more than a decade of Merkel wants change."
And change ain't the SPD as this point, that's for sure. So, if you're a left-leaning voter, why not take a flyer on the Greens? Perhaps Kevin Kuhnert, leader of the Jusos (SPD youth wing) and of opposition to the latest grand coalition can somehow revive the corpse. But for now things look pretty bleak for German social democracy.

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