She likes pantsuits, suffers public attention to her coif and shows telling signs of age with unflattering puffs under her eyes. But Angela Merkel is no Hillary Clinton. As a world leader, she's channeling Margaret Thatcher, not Eleanor Roosevelt. This lady is famously "not for turning."
The chancellor of Germany, just re-elected for a third time in a landslide, is appreciated for her austerity in the European Union. Her countrymen call her "Mutti," or Mother, with affection but with a certain formality, recognizing that she's hanging tough because she thinks tough love is good for you. She makes the less thrifty European countries fear her sustained pocketbook power.
Some European political cartoonists draw her with a Hitler moustache or a Bismarck helmet, but the iron lady of Germany is obviously popular in her own country. She was re-elected by a margin of more than 7 percentage points above her last re-election in 2009. Heads of other Eurozone countries, including France, Italy and Spain, were not re-elected after the recession rattled their treasuries, and she not only survives the economic crisis, she triumphs through it.
"Angela the Great," as some of the hyperbolic German headlines describe her, captures the zeitgeist with neither dazzle nor sparkle. The words most often used to describe her political strategy range from prudent to pragmatic. She's as plainspoken as her plain dress. The Germans seem relieved that on this side of the bridge to the 21st century, flamboyance and charisma have been replaced by the comforting normality of sobriety and even temperament. The agonizing guilt over the Third Reich, followed by the anxiety and paranoia of the East German Stasi, both now in the garbage can of history, have been replaced by a steady sense of security.
Merkel represents the hard-working, steady German who supports her policies and is grateful that she reined in the extravagance of the Greeks bearing gifts for themselves. She's certainly no Saint Angela, as some paint her, and she lacks the purity of the do-or-die politics that Germans find unpleasant (and puzzling) in America. Her conservatism means preserving what's possible without falling on the sword of the improbable. While her detractors say there's no policy she won't compromise, her supporters say she merely preserves the important while giving in on the less important, like saving the euro without signing blank checks to the profligate countries.
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