Foot in mouth : German politicians behaving badly
Friedrich Merz and Christian Lindner have trended on social media all day. On sexism, homophobia and lobbyists that are more expensive than you thought.
Berlin - At first glance it would seem to have been a bad weekend for male politicians in Germany. Within hours this morning, Friedrich Merz (CDU) and Christian Lindner (FDP) had both sparked social media shitstorms (as Germans love to say).
But, in fact, it's actually exponentially worse for the targets of their utterances: women and LGBTQ+ people, who have to be reminded once again of how they're perceived by men at the reins of power like Lindner and Merz.
This listicle is an attempt to keep a brief record of the offensiveness of their (and others') actions in a reminder that we need to improve. It would be better if the list didn't need expansion in the coming months but with Germany heading into an election year, there will probably be plenty of opportunity.
1. Friedrich Merz
One of three (or maybe four) viable options to replace Angela Merkel as the conservative CDU's chancellor candidate in next year's federal election, Merz is seen as a bulwark of the pro-business wing of the CDU, mostly because he used to chair the German operations of BlackRock, a massive global fund manager.
Late Sunday on Bild Live, an online broadcast by Germany's biggest tabloid, presenter Kai Wiese asked Merz what he would think if a gay man became chancellor. Before we move on to his answer we'd like to point out that Bild deserves its own shitstorm for even asking this question.
“The issue of sexual orientation isn't something that the public should deal with as long as it's within the law and as long as it doesn't affect children,” he said. It pains us to link to anything Bild but we want to be transparent:
Journalists, fairly or unfairly, then asked gay German Health Minister Jens Spahn (CDU) during a regular government press conference what he thought of his fellow CDU politician's homophobic words: “If the first association on the topic of homosexuality is legality or paedophilia, then you'd better perhaps direct your question at Friedrich Merz.”
2. Christian Lindner
Christian Lindner is head of Germany's second-largest opposition party, the business-friendly Free Democrats, or FDP, and is busy positioning the party for next year's election where it both has to worry about staying in parliament and trying to get ahead of the country's biggest opposition party, the right-wing AfD. Part of his positioning means replacing Linda Teuteberg as general secretary. At Saturday's FDP general meeting, he tried to say good-bye and show his appreciation for her past efforts with the following joke:
“I fondly remember, Linda, that in the last 15 months we started the day together about 300 times," he said and then paused for comic effect before bringing down the punchline. "I'm talking about our daily morning briefing on the political situation, not what you're thinking.”
His attempt at comedy starts at 1:27:
No one was thinking that but you, Lindner.
3. Sigmar Gabriel
This summer more than 1,000 employees of Tönnies slaughterhouses in North-Rhine Westphalia came down with Covid-19, highlighting the awful conditions often migrant employees live and work under while killing and processing industrially raised animals (many of the workers are flown in and housed just to work for cheap). The publicity raised the question of why the government had allowed such a dreadful working environment, at which point journalists at public broadcaster ARD discovered that ex-foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel (SPD) had been hired as a consulant for the meatpacking company in March.
Although he quit after just three months, Gabriel had signed a two-year contract worth €10,000 a month, with additional thousands promised for travel days.
Gabriel, a lawyer by training, went to Der Spiegel to explain that he was just helping out on some trade issues: “Tönnies doesn't do anything forbidden,” he said. “For normal people, €10,000 is a lot of money. But in that industry it's not an exceptionally high figure. I'm not a politician anymore.”
Plenty suggested asking the kill-floor workers who got corona just what they thought of one of their colleagues pocketing €10,000 a month when all they got was quarantine.
4. Andreas Kalbitz
There is so much offensive about Andreas Kalbitz, a former politician for the rightwing Alternative for Germany (or AfD) party, that we could write a standalone article (actually, we have). But this summer, he greeted colleague Dennis Hohloch at a party event with a punch to the ribs, rupturing Hohloch's spleen. Oh, boys will be boys!
Hohloch had already replaced Kalbitz as head of the AfD parliamentarians in the Brandenburg state government while Kalbitz appealed his expulsion from the party for not revealing his alleged memberships in neo-Nazi organisations. The punch may have sealed his fate as an outsider of an outlier party.