If you had asked six- or eight-year-old JR what a chancellor is, he’d probably have said that a chancellor is something like a parson. A parson speaks from a pulpit; the German word for pulpit is Kanzel, and a chancellor is a Kanzler(in).
I didn’t know then what a chancellor is, and I didn’t really know what a parson is, either – I only knew that our local parson (I had no idea that there were many other parsons, in other places) commanded respect.
If you’d asked me what a president is, I’d have had no idea, anyway.
But if my little parson analogy back then made any sense at all, it would have been in that presidential context. German federal presidents don’t have great powers, but they are, more commonly than “active” politicians, expected to be impeccable. It’s noteworthy that there was probably never a majority of Germans who wanted Christian Wulff to resign, even if he had – as he himself put it time and again – “made mistakes”. A majority didn’t seem to believe that Wulff was telling them the entire truth about his conduct as Lower Saxony’s former minister-president – but then, many of them didn’t trust the press either. There were reasons to distrust the press – but there is no reason to comdemn the press. Some reporters did their research, and helped to make sure that every public servant remains accountable.
And either way, it’s good that Wulff has resigned. He kept leaving questions open, and a president who is under investigation would be a distracted president at the very least. Wulff’s resignation statement is touching, but not entirely convincing. He had “made mistakes”, he said today, but he had “always been sincere”. That’s hard to agree with, and an apology for his own share in the mess – after all, mistakes spell no admission of guilt – might have been much more impressive.
On the other hand, his troubles with his Lower Saxonian past pose questions about how to find a successor, too. It would be wrong to suggest that every politician were uncomfortably close to business or buddies – it’s hard to think of Angela Merkel getting into similar straits as Wulff, for example. But Wulff’s successor will, in all likelihood, be another party politician, with knowns and unknowns in his or her records. The good thing about this story is that no candidate can expect to be shielded from his or her own past by the office’s prestige.
The safest bet now might be an emeritus constitutional judge. A certain parson might be a great choice, too – but it’s not easy to tell if he would communicate effectively and successfully with the public, and as we have seen two resignations from the presidential office in less than two years now, this may not be a good time for daring experiments.
Or is it? Is there still much to lose?
» Wulff steps down, Der Spiegel, Febr 17, 2012
» Wulff and his small-minded Fans, December 23, 2012
» Germany’s Special Relationship, Oct 20, 2010
» A Hate-Filled Press Campaign, June 2, 2010
» Politician Wanted, May 31, 2010
» Mass Media, losing Relevance, Febr 26, 2009