The shipwreck off the Italian coast, Bret Stephens writes in the Wall Street Journal, is an apt metaphor for the entire continent. Read more to find out why.
Germany is going to the polls in September but even by German standards, the election season is boring beyond belief. The governing CDU/CSU, my buddy Michael Zoeller has observed, never fights election campaigns; it survives them. That is child’s play this time around, given the astounding popularity of the party’s standard-bearer, Chancellor Angela Merkel. The vast majority of Germans think that things are going tolerably well, especially compared to the rest of the world. The opposition Social Democrats can’t get traction on any issue, especially not on the one issue that matters: Europe. (“Let’s be nicer to Greece” is not a winning slogan.) The Greens have hitched their wagon to the SPD and so will go the same way: down. The Free Democrats (the CDU’s current coalition partner) have gone through a series of self-inflicted crises, and they have a demand-side problem: all the folks who might vote for a more liberal order emigrated long ago. If the party fails to clear the five-percent hurdle in the upcoming election, the CDU/CSU/FDP coalition will be replaced with another “grand” CDU/CSU/SPD coalition, with no net effect on Germany’s internal policies or its posture in the EU. Go back to sleep.
A bright spot in the dreary landscape is a book by a heretofore unknown author (Timur Vermes) that has topped the bestseller lists for several weeks: Er Ist Wieder Da (“He Is Back”). “Er” is Adolf Hitler, who (far from having committed suicide) wakes up one fine day in 2011 in a Berlin Hinterhof. From that absurd premise follows an all-too-plausible, hysterically funny satire, told by the protagonist. In short order, Herr Hitler is discovered by tv producers, who put his act on a trashy talk show. (The director insists on one condition: “We agree that the topic ‘Jews’ isn’t funny.” “You are entirely right,” I seconded her, almost relieved.) Hitler gains a huge following on Facebook (and in turn becomes a big social media fan), and elite media from Die Zeit to the Frankfurter Allgemeine come to praise what they view as a devastating, subversive attack on Germany’s stifling political culture. Eventually, the Führer gets his own talk show, broadcast from the Wolfsschanze.
His first studio guest is Green Party matriarch Renate Kuenast. My unauthorized translation of the event appears below. To get the full joke, one has to have experienced Frau Kuenast in her snarling, self-righteous splendor. Think Nancy Pelosi without Botox, coiffure, and haute couture, and you’ll get most of it:
“Nice of you to come,” I greeted Frau Kuenast and offered her a seat. She sat down confidently, like someone who is used to cameras.
“Yes, happy to be here, too,” she said snippily, “in a way.”
“You probably wonder why I invited you.”
“Because no one else accepted?”
“Oh no, we could also have invited your colleague, [Claudia] Roth. By the way: could you do me a favor?”
“Please eliminate that woman from your party. How is one supposed to cooperate with a party that houses something so gruesome?”
“I’d like to note here that Claudia Roth is doing excellent work and…”
“You are right, perhaps it would be enough to keep her away from the cameras, in a windowless basement, sound-proof—but that brings us to our topic: I invited you because of course I have to plan for the future, and unless I’m mistaken, the seizure of power requires parliamentary majorities…”
“Yes, sure, in 1933, I still needed the DNVP. Things could turn out similarly in the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, though, the DNVP no longer exists, and so I’m examining who else might qualify for a new Harzburger Front…”
“And of all parties, your candidate is the Green Party?”
“I don’t see many possibilities here,” she frowned.
“Your modesty is becoming, but don’t hide your light under a bushel. Your party is more qualified than you may think!”
“I assume we have comparable visions for the future. Tell me: where do you see Germany in 500 years?”
“Or in 300 years?”
“I am not a prophet. I’d rather stick to reality.”
“Surely, though, you have a concept for Germany?”
“But not for 300 years. Nobody knows what will happen in 300 years.”
“Oh? What will happen in 300 years?”
“For their visions of the future, the Greens seek the advice of the Führer of the German Reich! I told you that cooperation isn’t so unimaginable…”
“Keep it to yourself,” Kuenast hastily backpedaled, “the Greens are doing just fine without you…”
“Ok, how far does your planning for the future reach in the first place? 100?”
“Fifty? Forty? Thirty? Twenty? You know what? I count down and you simply say “Stop!””
“No one can seriously say that he can estimate coming developments for more than, say, ten years.”
“…or maybe fifteen.”
“Ok, then: where do you see Germany in fifteen minutes?”
“If you insist: I see the future Germany as an environment-friendly, energy-politically robustly provided-for high-technology country especially for environmental technology, embedded in a peaceful Europe under the roof of the EU and the UN…”
“That the EU will still exist then—that, you know?” I asked.
“Are the Greeks still in it? The Spaniards? The Italians? The Irish? The Portuguese?”
Kuenast sighed: “Who can tell today?”
“When it comes to energy policy, you can! There, you are thinking in my dimensions! Few or no imports, complete autarky with renewable raw materials, from water, wind: that is political energy security even in a hundred, two hundred, a thousand years. You can peek into the future, after all. And what can I tell you—it’s what I’ve been demanding all along…”
“Hold on! For entirely wrong reasons!”
“What do the reasons have to do with sustainable energy? Are there good wind farms and bad wind farms?”
She eyed me angrily.
“You know very well that I did not mean it that way. The way you argue, you might as well ask whether the murder of millions of Jews with solar energy would have been better…”
“Interesting,” I said,” but the topic ‘Jews’ isn’t funny.”
For a moment, nothing at all could be heard in the studio.
“Silence on tv is always a waste of the people’s valuable frequencies,” I said. “Let’s go to commercials in the meantime.”
“Really close to the edge, the stuff you’re putting on here!” [Frau Kuenast] said in a muffled voice.
“Naturally I know your party’s sensibilities,” I said, “but you must admit: I didn’t start on the Jews.”
[The show resumes, and Herr Hitler and Frau Kuenast migrate to a table showing a world map. “Why,” Mr. Hitler asks,]
“has your party recently declined to rely on the experience, the knowledge of a man like the former Minister of War [Joschka] Fischer?”
“Joschka Fischer was never Minister of Defense,” Kuenast replied brusquely.
“You are correct,” I replied, “I never saw him as a Minister of Defense. You can defend only the Reich’s own territory, and the Kosovo doesn’t immediately belong to it. And considering the distance, annexation wouldn’t have made sense, either—or do you have a different view?”
“Annexation of the Kosovo was never under consideration! The point was ethnic cleansing… c’mon, I’m not going to explain to you the business about intervention in Kosovo. You simply couldn’t look the other way!”
“Nobody understands that better than I do,” I said earnestly. “You are entirely right, there was no alternative, I remember that from 1941. By the way, what’s that Fischer guy doing now?”
Her eyes swiveled between the current conditions of Herr Fischer and a comparative analysis of Balkan politics over the past seventy years. She decided to go for the former.
“The important fact is that the Greens need not worry about the talent within their ranks. Joschka Fischer was and is an important figure in the Green movement’s history, but now it is someone else’s turn.”
“Like yourself, for example?”
“Like—among many others—me.”
[Arriving at the table:]
“May I ask you how the Greens want to bring the Afghanistan mission to a victorious conclusion?”
“What do you mean, victorious conclusion—the military engagement there must be ended as soon as possible. It only prompts further violence…”
“In Afghanistan, we have nothing to gain, I see it your way. Why are we there?”
“One moment,” she said, “but…”
“Please don’t tell me you’re again worried about my motives,” I said. “Please don’t tell me that only you may withdraw from Afghanistan, and I would have to stay there!”
“I am not sure whether I should say anything at all at this point,” she mused, as her eyes wandered through the studio. Her gaze stopped underneath the table.
“There’s a suitcase,” Kueanst said smugly, “is that intentional?”
“Someone probably forgot it,” I said absentmindedly.” “By the way, where is Stauffenberg?”
“Now that we agree on withdrawing from Afghanistan,” I said leaning over the table, “tell us for our conclusion: if the Greens gain power in this country, which country will you annex first?”
“The suitcase is ticking,” Frau Kuenast said, dumbfounded.
“Don’t be silly,” I admonished. “A suitcase does not tick. A suitcase is not an alarm clock. Which country, you said?”
“Is it going to spew confetti? Or flour? Soot? Paint?”
“Good God, then take a look!”
“You wish! Do you think I’m crazy?”
“Well, then you’ll probably never find out. We, on the other hand, have learned a great deal of interest about your likeable party. Many thanks for joining us—Frau Renate Kuenast!”
Soon after this brilliant demolition job, Hitler gets beat up by neo-Nazi thugs. At the end of the book, he is recovering in a hospital while his PR friends are thinking up a political campaign, including a slogan that should appeal to the youth vote.
The slogan reads:
“Not everything was bad.”
One can work with that.