The race to the White House: an analysis of Super Tuesday
On February 6, GMF Berlin, in cooperation with the U.S. Embassy in Berlin, hosted a discussion entitled "The race to the White House: an analysis of Super Tuesday." About 120 people attended a panel discussion with William Chandler, a professor at University of California in San Diego; Mr. William Drozdiak from American Council on Germany; and Mr. Ralf Beste, Marshall Memorial Fellow and a journalist with Der Spiegel in Berlin. Constanze Stelzenmüller, executive director of GMF's Berlin Office, moderated the discussion held in the State Representation of Baden-Württemberg.
Professor Chandler started out with an observation that the 2008 presidential race is historic in many ways. For example, for the first time since 1952 neither a sitting president nor vice-president is running for the office, the candidates include the first woman, the first African-American, the first Mormon, and the oldest candidate ever.
In their analysis of Super Tuesday, professor Chandler and Mr. Drozdiak agreed that John McCain is now almost certain to get the Republican nomination, while the contest between Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama remains open. Professor Chandler warned that if the Democratic race remains uncertain long after McCain becomes the clear Republican frontrunner, this could put the Democrats at a disadvantage, as they might become mired in aggressive infighting, while the Republicans could consolidate and focus on the campaign.
Mr. Drozdiak quoted the saying that, "Republicans fall in line, and Democrats fall in love," to explain both the increasing certainty of a McCain candidacy as well as the enthusiasm for Obama. He added that McCain's success will force both Obama and Clinton to work harder on their weaknesses — substance and policy details for Obama, and warmth and trustworthiness for Clinton. Furthermore, to illustrate the generation gap between baby boomers and their children, Mr. Drozdiak cited the line, "Don't tell Mama, I'm voting for Obama," which apparently is increasingly popular on college campuses.
Mr. Beste then provided a brief analysis of the German public and media response to the campaign. In a jab at a cover story in Der Spiegel's rival publication Stern, he said that the 2008 race is often pictured here as one between Obama and Clinton, as though the Democrats are entitled to a U.S. presidency after eight years of Bush administration. For many Germans it is hard to understand that Americans might want to elect another Republican. However, Mr. Beste believes that a McCain presidency may bring about a clearer and more honest transatlantic debate on values and policy. He added that Germans might be so grateful for a Democratic president that they would be inclined, at least at the outset, to gloss over important differences in foreign policy.
The panelists agreed that no matter which of the three candidates becomes the next U.S. president, the good news for Europe is that each one of them is a committed Atlanticist. At the same time, the speakers warned that this will also mean a greater burden on Europeans when it comes to Afghanistan and possibly even Iraq. If Europe wants equal partnership it has to be willing to take equal responsibility. Particularly, a post-Bush U.S. president who asks Germany to take on more responsibility in Afghanistan may present a challenge for German chancellor Angela Merkel as she heads into her own election campaign in 2009.
A lively discussion with the audience followed, including questions on foreign policy, campaign finance, potential running mates, and the role of super delegates at the party conventions. The audience was diverse and knowledgeable, and it included staff members from the German foreign ministry as well as the Bundestag, journalists, teachers, students, and representatives from think tanks and the private sector.