German and US Conservatives have Little In Common

1 October 2021

While across the US the German election has been depicted in the mainstream media as a defeat for the ruling Conservative (Christian Democrat) Party, the reality of conservatism in Germany — and most of Europe — is that it bears little resemblance to what it means to Americans.

Retiring Chancellor, Angela Merkel, has been in office for the last sixteen years. While Conservatives in the US equate public provision of healthcare as ‘socialism’, in Germany, and most other western democracies for that matter, mainstream conservative parties — like their left wing opponents — see healthcare as the right of every citizen. The supreme irony is that it costs each taxpayer a good deal less than what Americans shell out for so little in return. Germany has actually enjoyed a social health care system for 138 years.

Conservative Americans might also imagine that Germany’s ‘Conservative’ Chistian Democrats would be pro capital punishment. To the contrary, a West Germany Conservative government dropped the death penalty in 1949, after the collapse of the Third Reich. In East Germany, the death penalty was tossed out after the fall of communism in 1989

Germany, incidentally, has an incarceration rate that is less than a tenth of that in the US, and boasts a far more humane system, oriented more towards rehabilitation than punishment. The jails are run entirely by the state in Germany, where private for-profit prisons are widely seen as an abhorrent idea.

Conservative Americans might also assume that their German political namesakes are against gay marriage. To the contrary, a poll shows that 73 percent of Conservative voters are for it, and it has been legalised. Indeed, only the extremely authoritarian nationalist party, Alternative für Deutschland, opposes same-sex marriage.

Then what about abortion? It’s available in ‘Conservative’ Germany during the first three months of pregnancy. Then surely Germany’s ‘Conservative’ chancellor has opposed immigration? To the contrary, she welcomed well over a million Muslim refugees in a single year.

Right across the board — minimum wage, trade union rights, generous sick pay, at least 5 weeks paid holiday, free childcare and so on — Germany’s Conservatives have little in common with those of the US. Indeed Angela Merkel has been generally well to the left of Elizabeth Warren and the progressive wing of the Democratic Party.

Now Germany has a centre-left government — a coalition of Social Democrats, Greens and Liberals. As with most of Europe, the German political landscape runs from the real far left to the actual far right. Smaller parties have a reasonable chance of a voice in the Bundestag, since hte country’s finely-tuned system of proportional representation means a threshold of just 5 percent of the vote.

After 16 years of Conservative-led government, the top basic tax rate in Germany stands at 45 percent — an unconscionable figure for most US conservatives. But it’s still a far cry from the 91 percent top earners’ bracket reached during the presidency of Dwight Eisenhower. That was a time before liberal Republicans became an extinct species; when conservatives in the US and Germany would have sat more closely together on The Political Compass.

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