A Performance Worthy of a Puppet Theater
In a television appearance on Wednesday, German President Christian Wulff sought to end a growing scandal involving his personal loans and treatment of the media. He showed a bit of regret, but also tried to portray himself as a victim of the nasty press. It was brazen, but also smart. It is very possible he will survive the affair.
In the affair currently embroiling Christian Wulff, the German president appears to only be concerned about one thing: honesty. Well, if this is about honesty, then here goes: Wulff is a mediocre politician, who has a few pretty mediocre problems, that have been made public in what has been at times a rather mediocre fashion and which he also tried to make disappear in a rather mediocre way on television. Welcome to Germany in the year 2012.
Wulff's prime-time appearance on Wednesday on Germany's two national public broadcasters, ARD and ZDF, had an element to it that was terrifyingly banal. On view was not the kind of moral icon one would like to have as president, but rather a head of state who was formally begging for mercy. Instead of truly explaining himself, he feigned transparency, openness and honesty for a full 21 minutes. It wasn't even good acting, but a performance more on the level of a children's puppet show in his provincial home city of Osnabrück.
"I wouldn't want to be a president in a country where a person can no longer borrow money from friends," the president said on Wednesday night, refering to the controversy about his private loan. It almost made one want to respond: Who wants to be the citizen of a country in which the president makes such statements on television?
Seeing as we're being honest: It is quite possible that Wulff will survive this affair and remain president. Everyone knows that Chancellor Angela Merkel and her fellow conservatives aren't interested in having another presidential election only months after the abrupt resignation of Wulff's predecessor, Horst Köhler, who, like Wulff, is a member of Merkel's Christian Democratic Union and had also been handpicked for the job by the chancellor. It would be too bothersome, too annoying and the threat is too great that the effort would end in disaster for the conservatives. That's why Wulff is being allowed to stay in office. For now.
The political calculations by Merkel and her allies are absolutely mediocre, for which they have the perfect president. Wulff is determined to sit out the affair. That should be apparent to anyone.
A Search for Allies
Wulff's television appearance was nothing more than a search for allies. He wanted to mobilize the viewers behind him. The president asked the people to enter into a pact with him. They should stand behind him against the media and his critics. It was a classic "us against them" approach.
But the president isn't interested in any true openness. He may apologize for his mistakes, but in the same breath he also seeks to portray himself as a victim, persecuted by supposedly horrible journalists who intrude on his private life and even have the audacity to want to know who paid for his wife's wedding dress. The message of Wednesday's interview is this: Look, I am a good president and my critics are wildly exaggerating.
That is brazen, but what else could one have expected? Wulff has once again played the innocent victim. But by the time he called the Springer publishing house with his "I am the president" line, it must have been clear to everyone that he isn't as innocent as he likes to portray himself. But does anyone care?
Again, being honest: Anyone who believes Wulff doesn't deserve any better. The public television journalists who grilled Wulff on Wednesday kept straight faces as they condemned the use of political power to influence reporting. How ironic, considering how much influence the political parties have on German public broadcasters. One might laugh if it weren't so sad.
It is Christian Wulff's opinion that a president and his achievements must first be measured at the end of his term in office. Are we meant to accept that, too? Wulff still has a number of dull and mediocre years ahead of him -- and as long as he remains in office, so do we.
In the past, the president served as a kind of ersatz Kaiser, a position that had been eliminated together with the monarchy in 1918. But now Wulff feels more like an ersatz president. Let's see if anyone notices.
Roland Nelles is SPIEGEL ONLINE's Berlin bureau chief and heads the Politics Desk.