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Chancellor Democracy under Gerhard Schröder (July 26, 2002)

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Management of Public Forums

Schröder also actively uses the media. He tries to use the public mood to influence decision-making. Going public: up to now that has been one of the most important instruments of American presidents, who, due to the system, must continually forge new Congressional majorities. “Telepolitics,” however, involves more than presenting politics in a way that generates media attention, above all by personalizing it. What has made telepolitics a defining characteristic of the “chancellor of the day” is his never-ending campaign-trail style of governance. Daily opinion polls and an extreme fixation on their findings ensure that he is constantly referring to fluctuating voter sentiments. Governing at one-minute intervals, so to speak, is the answer to the expanded role of the public arena and the erosion of the party and of coalition democracy, which Schröder sees as only one of several sources of power.

His actions are geared toward the prerequisites for success in the media-saturated public sphere: attracting attention is a goal in and of itself, extreme personalization serves its purpose, and a public appearance that generates media interest is more important than discreet negotiations. Moods precede majorities. And so the chancellor majority in the Berlin Republic seems to be only one of many power resources.

The list can be expanded. It becomes very obvious that the political decision-making process is split into two segments. On the one hand, the representative, parliamentary democracy continues to function along its conventional pathways. In addition, now there is also a new regulation model, in which everything representative is relegated to the background. The new style of governance transforms established rules of the game and institutions into a projection screen for the presentation-plebiscitary government, in which rules are openly broken or tacitly circumvented. Modern governance makes use of the set pieces of parliamentary democracy in a playful and situational manner. In this political model, governance does not provide as much direction as it did previously; it is more like a moderator with strong leadership skills, reacting to free-floating attitudes in the excitement-fuelled democracy. Market-oriented choreography and the management of public forums are a strategic response by politics to choosy voters whose decisions are increasingly short-winded, shortsighted, and dependent on the situation and the intended maximization of self-interest.

When majorities change along with current political events, politics answers flexibly. In such a public opinion-driven democracy, the controlling factor is no longer the opposition but rather public sentiment, which in turn measures and sizes up the political elite with increasingly sophisticated sensors. That can be an effective formula over time. But the success prerequisites for the presidential republic include one important building block, which is threatening to break off: a parliamentary opposition that does not work in concert and that does not allow rules to be broken because individual actors – especially minister presidents – profit from it.

Source: Karl-Rudolf Korte, “In der Präsentationsdemokratie. Schröders Regierungsstil prägt die Berliner Republik” [“In the Presentation Democracy. Schröder’s Style of Government leaves its Mark on the Berlin Republic”], Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, July 26, 2002.

Translation: Allison Brown

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