Interesting week politically and especially when you get to watch people going to the polls in two nations. Creeping out of bed at 5 am on Sunday to see who won in South Carolina and tuning in at 6pm to register who might win in the state of Hessen in Germany. A woman, Andrea Ypsilanti, very smart, well educated, self-made, from a blue collar background, with, no less, a non-German last name managed to pull even with the current Governor, Roland Koch. Koch managed to pull every (cheap) card out of his sleeve during the campaign to attack young migrants for their violence. Of course during the course of his tirades, three young German thugs were finally caught who almost beat a poor man to death in Hamburg on New Year's Day. This time the public was in no mood to be pandered to on this level. The first time running Koch tossed the idea that having two citizenships and being allowed to vote in two countries was an outrage and his message managed to get him elected. (For the record, my two adult children have two citizenships and vote in the US elections as Special Federal Voters from the State of New York and vote in all German elections, including the upcoming Hamburg one in February. I can only vote in federal US elections because if I were to become a German, I would be forced to renounce my US citizenship. Since my children received their citizenships as a birth right from both mother and father, they are allowed to do what I can never do simply because I live here with a German husband.)
Politically, German women have been breaking the so-called glass ceiling on their own, without a husband who preceded them in office, without having gone to any 'women's only college', without big family money behind them, without big name universities, but rather state universities which till now did not charge tuition. An argument can be made that it was the Green Party that helped women find a political voice and introduced not only women but alternative life styles to a rather formal, male dominated political scene.
People here are very involved in following the US primaries. How can they not after almost eight years of Bush II, the war in Iraq, the dismal economic news plus a cast of colorful characters, high emotions and the fact that the man and woman on the street forces the candidates to come down and speak to them. However, it's not the former First Lady as much as her rival who is attracting attention. Once upon a time here a US diplomat remarked on how his daughter knew so many Presidents, but my children seemed to know only one German Chancellor, Helmut Kohl who was in office for so many years, one lost count. Times have indeed changed. It is now young Americans who only seem to know Bush, Clinton, Bush, perhaps another Clinton with a Kennedy or two thrown in it all. It seems odd and disturbing in such difficult times that so few are running, including other women. However, as in most things in US life today, money rules and without mega-bucks (whether through marriage, either to a millionaire or to a former President) throwing one's hat into the ring becomes a probably too daunting hurdle to climb. Sad, very sad state of affairs.
Two New York newspapers comment on the current state of the primaries. New York's 'hometown' newspaper takes a close look at Hillary going negative today:
'Employing innuendo and half-truths against Sen. Barack Obama, Sen Hillary Clinton and her husband, the former President, have introduced the politics of personal destruction to the Democratic presidential campaign. They bear responsibility for cheapening the tone of the contest. ...... They have gone well beyond engaging in tough political jousting while steering the campaign far from substantive issues.'
The New York Observer has endorsed Sen. Obama for President in the February 5th primary:
'Because of who he is and what he stands for, a former constitutional law teacher with few ties to the Washington establishment yet a sophisticated respect for it, Mr. Obama stands the best chance of restoring the essential relationship between power and the American people. He is not flanked and blocked by an existing, entrenched power structure; his words are not muddied by layers of handlers; he still says what he means. .......We believe that Mr. Obama's idealism and fresh ideas would ensure that the end of the Bush era would also mean an end to government by secrecy, Cheneyism, arrogance, oligarchy; an end to mindless armed unilateralism abroad; an end of the blustering, rank partisan disputes of the last quarter-century.'
First news of the day was cause for relief and a loud cry of joy! Barack Obama won big in a state where 92% are white. If he can do it there, then he can do it anywhere in the US. Many things were inspiring: his way of presenting himself, his refusal of just throwing numbers and mind blogging statistics at every problem, his call for change in an atmosphere of cynicism, his taking citizens seriously and not appearing to manipulate them.
Given the choice between voting for a black man or a woman, many young single women tended to head to Obama. Why not? When the first woman is finally elected President, let it be one who has truly done it on her own. Let's not start going down the road that leads most First Ladies to think they have to throw their hats in the ring. There should be no sense of entitlement because one's father or husband (or wife) has been President. It would be unbearable to go on from Bush to Clinton to Bush to Clinton (not to mention the option of having a former two term president back in the White House and all the messiness that entails) to perhaps yet another Bush. In a country of 300 million surely there are very many highly talented people with new ideas who can run.
Did the war in Iraq take a back seat in this one primary campaign as leading newspapers are reporting? A gut feeling says no. The war is there: it's lurking in the background, putting a stain on our collective soul and draining the economy of money desperately needed for domestic problems, health insurance for all citizens being one of the most pressing issues.
No point in reading too much into one primary when so many others are coming up. Yet something special happened yesterday. A glimmer of an ideal of what America is all about put in an appearance and it was great seeing it finally, after these almost eight years of darkness.
A Dynasty Isn't a Democracy by Rosa Brooks at www.commondreams.org/archive/2008/01/03/6135
The emotionally roiling issue of whether to ban smoking in pubs and restaurants in Germany is somewhat settled on this New Year's Day in 11 of 16 states. Bavaria is banning all smoking almost everywhere including in private gatherings in restaurants whereas Hamburg is banning it generally speaking but not in receptions in separate rooms. It has been a long and very drawn out debate because of one publicly little known fact that lurks in the background. The anti-tobacco campaign of the Nazis: a little known aspect of public health in Germany, 1933-1945 at http://www.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/313/7070/1450 gives a detailed history of how and why the Nazis sought to repress smoking. The author concludes 'It means simply that scientific memories are often clouded by the celebrations of victors and that the political history of science is occasionally less pleasant than we would wish.'
Nobody likes to tell other people what to do with their lives and certainly not to criticize personal habits. Sitting in a restaurant where tables are sometimes shared with strangers and having smoke being blown into your face-- which happened years ago here-- and being rather roughly told the right to smoke is of a higher value probably was the beginning of the end of smokers' rights. Years ago at a parents-teachers evening in the classroom which would be used the next day it took months of heated discussion to get a vote to have smokers' breaks and even then, the teacher decided not to follow the majority's vote. 'I don't care what anyone has to say about my right to light up,' she declared and puffed away. Then again, there is former chancellor Helmut Schmidt who turned 90 last month who refuses to allow any ban on his smoking. You can't help but to admire him and his accomplishments.
Is it just a power play between individuals or is there a real threat from passive smoking? In Best of 2007 at www.medjournalwatch.blogspot.com the writer sums up what he has learned this year after looking at the scientific facts outside of the mainstream press. His take on passive smoking is that it does indeed harm and furthermore 'A second point is the fact that the victim of secondhand smoke is being harmed against his or her own will which must be weighted stronger that bad consequences of own behavior.'
Just how this ban is going to be enforced is an open question. Will smokers just continue to light up and pretend nothing has changed which often happens at train stations under no-smoking signs? In the end it's a bit like getting people to clean up after their dogs. There are laws on the books but little will and lots of heated emotions about whether to follow or enforce them.