January 1, 2008
The Conservative Tide in Major DemocraciesBy Bruce Walker
When things are going poorly for the Left, count on it to change the subject. After the surge refused to fail, the surge ceased to be news. Recall four years ago, when "all" the leaders of our major democratic friends were hostile to America, to our liberation of Iraq, and in particular to President Bush? Remember how Senator Kerry said that leaders of Europe privately wanted him to win the presidency? That news has ceased to become newsworthy.
Why? Because, like the surge, the sentiment in major democracies has turned as well.
The most outstanding example, of course, is the change in France. Sarkozy, a frankly pro-American French president, took office and completely transformed the policies of his nation (precisely as I had predicted he would in many articles over the period of years preceding his election.) Next most vital was the selection, after a very odd Bundestag election, of Angela Merkel as chancellor of Germany. Although much less flamboyant than Sarkozy, Merkel is quietly supportive of America and Israel, leading Palestinians during her visit to the Holy Lands to complain that she was "more pro-Israel than the Israelis." Our neighbor to the north, Canada, also replaced the anti-American Grits with Conservative Stephen Harper. Tony Blair left of his own accord in Britain, but his Labour Party remains to the Left of the Conservative Party, the logical and historical intra-national ally of America.
In each of four major nations important to us, France, Germany, Canada, and Britain, there remain obstacles for conservatives and pro-Americans. Sarkozy cannot completely change the attitudes of his countrymen, even if he does wield considerable political clout and even if his rhetoric is absolutely fearless. Merkel and her party are a minority in the Bundestag, even when the traditional allies of the CDU/CSU, the FDP are included. Harper also is a minority premier, with all the other parties to the left of his Conservative Party. Cameron, the Conservative Party leader in the United Kingdom, is the leader of the opposition, not the prime minister.
But the condition within these democracies, these nations historically most important to America in both political and cultural connections, has improved - in some cases, dramatically improved - since the last elections in each nation.
Merkel's Christian Democrat Party / Christian Social Union, after the October 2005 election, won only 226 out of the 614 seats in the Bundestag. Her party coalition received only 35.2% of the party list vote (most indicative of national support.) The SPD, the party of Schroeder, won 222 seats in the Bundestag and 34.2% of the party list vote. Even if Merkel reached out to her party's historical ally, the Free Democratic Party, she could not hope to form a majority in the Bundestag. Consequently, in order to become chancellor, Merkel was compelled to form a grand coalition with the SPD.
Harper's Conservative Party in Canada was in not much better shape. In January 2006, out of 308 seats in the Canadian Parliament, Harper's Conservative Party won only 124 seats. The percentage of the popular vote was 36.3% and Harper, too, has been forced to rely upon the different smaller opposition parties in Canada to remain in power.
In May 2005, Tony Blair's Labour Party won a huge majority in the House of Commons, but this was only because of the non-proportional system of election members of Parliament. In fact, the popular vote for the Labour Party was 35.3% and the popular vote for the Conservative Party was 32.3%. Gordon Brown, of course, has taken over since Blair left -- pointedly, without calling a general election. Although Brown does not have to call a general election until May 2010, the longer he waits, if his party is unpopular, the more desperate his situation becomes.
What of Sarkozy? The French system is fundamentally different from most parliamentary systems. As President Sarkozy, our friend in Paris, carries enormous power quite on his own. Also, his election is for five years, so that he is relatively immune to public opinion. He can do just what he is doing now: taking unpopular stands early in his term and waiting out his political enemies.
But, amazingly, Sarkozy remains relatively popular in France. Despite being staunchly pro-American and taking on public employees unions at the risk of social chaos, 51% of Frenchmen today are satisfied with Sarkozy's performance as President of France. If he had been a caretaker president, this would be a meaningless fact, but Sarkozy has been anything but that. He is our friend; he is our ideological ally; and he is winning the battle for public opinion in France.
Merkel is doing even better. In October 2005, her party barely edged the SPD. Now, her party coalition has 38% of the popular support(and it has gotten as high recently as 41%. The principal opposition, the SPD, has a weak 26% popular support in the latest poll, and this figure has been as low recently as 24%. Perhaps as important, if the election were held today, Merkel could form a majority coalition in the Bundestag with the traditional allies of her party coalition, the Free Democratic Party. This governing coalition would mean that Merkel could ditch her socialist grand coalition partners, and form a more conservative coalition government with the FDP.
When Germans are asked to vote in a straight popularity contest between Merkel and the SPD leader Beck, Merkel beats Beck by an overwhelming 58% of the popular vote to 22% of the popular vote. Angela Merkel, the conservative leader of German government, along with Stephen Harper, the conservative leader of Canadian government, are the two most widely admired political leaders in the world, according to December 2007 Angus Reid Monitor poll.
Just as Merkel's CDU/CSU group is doing better now than at the last general election, Harper's Conservative Party also continues to lead in Canada by a wider margin than what brought it into power. Over the last few months the percentage edge over the Liberal Party has been as high as fourteen points and as low as three points, but it has been consistent. At least as importantly, Harper runs far ahead of Liberal Party leader Dion in whom Canadians prefer.
The Labour Party has ruled the United Kingdom for more than ten years. Every election it has won during this period has been under Tony Blair. Although the former prime minister was resolute in his support for America during the Iraq War, the Labour Party was not (Blair resisted Labour Party antipathy to his Iraq policy largely because Conservative Party MPs supported him.) In the post-Blair period, there is little reason for patriotic Americans to root for Gordon Brown or the Labour Party, and there is abundant evidence that the Conservative Party will win the next general election.
Depending upon which polls one reads, the Conservative Party has a good or a very good lead over the Labour Party -- a plurality significantly greater than the Labour Party had in the last general election. Because the United Kingdom, like Canada, has a "first past the gate" electoral system (the candidate with the most votes wins), poll numbers of this sort would translate into a Conservative Party electoral landslide.
Gordon Brown has very low marks -- 32% favorable -- for his performance as prime minister and David Cameron has very high marks ---53% favorable -- for his performance as leader of the opposition. Add to this other polls which show 57% of Britons believe that Brown is "tainted with sleaze" and the prospects for Gordon Brown lasting until the next general election seem small.
What does all this mean for conservative Americans? In our last presidential cycle, anti-American leaders like Chirac or anti-American and leftist leaders like Schroeder and Chretien ran the governments of France, Germany and Canada. The clearest pro-American leader was out of step Tony Blair, whose Labour Party sheltered no love for America. Since 2004, elections have dramatically the configuration in the major democracies and since those transformational elections public opinion in Germany, Canada, France and Britain show that pro-American conservative leaders are very popular. If conservatives can win in America in 2008, the unity of purpose among and philosophy the major western democracies may be greater than at any time since the end of the Second World War. It could, literally, be the opportunity of a lifetime.