September 15, 2008: Former German chancellor Helmut
Schmidt has never been known for mincing his words. Yesterday
he lived up to his reputation of being "Schmidt the snout"
["Schmidt-Schnauze"] in his characterization of populist
leftist politician Oskar Lafontaine, co-chairman of Germany's
new political party called "Die Linke" ["the left"]. LaFontaine
used to be an influential member of Schmidt's own party, the
Social Democratic Party (SPD). However, he resigned from his
cabinet post in SPD chancellor Gerhard Schröder's
coalition government and later left the SPD.
In remarks made to the Sunday edition of Germany's popular
boulevard newspaper "Bild-Zeitung" on LaFontaine's influence,
Schmidt compared his former party colleague to German dictator
Adolf Hitler. "Charisma by itself does not make anyone a good
politician," Schmidt said, adding that "Adolf Nazi" – his
description of Hitler – was a charismatic speaker.
"LaFontaine is, too," Schmidt surmised. He also compared
LaFontaine with French populist Jeanne Le Pen: "One is on the
left, the other on the right. But LaFontaine and Le Pen are
Representatives of LaFontaine's party "Die Linke" were quick
to condemn Schmidt's comparison, while the SPD remained silent.
"Die Linke" has attracted some of its members
from the left wing of the SPD who are upset
over conservative fiscal policies introduced by SPD
chancellor Schröder that they consider to be
contradictory to SPD party tradition. Some observers
surmised that it was payback time for Schmidt for comments
LaFontaine made just a couple months before Schmidt's
coalition government collapsed in 1982. LaFontaine, at that time
the mayor of Saarbrücken on the German-French border,
criticized Schmidt by saying that Schmidt "talks about a
sense of duty, predictability, practicality and
steadfastness. Those are secondary virtues. Stated
precisely, they can be useful in running a concentration
Schmidt and LaFontaine aren't the only German politicians to
make comparisons with the Nazi era. Here are some other notable
examples from the past:
Socialists were first of all Socialists" (Edmund Stoiber,
is a modern Communist leader who knows something about public
relations. Goebbels also knew something about PR" (Helmut Kohl,
• "That's the
worst [parliamentary] president since Hermann Göring"
(Helmut Kohl 2002, referring to Bundestag President Thierse of
Schmidt's comparison only applies to LaFontaine's rhetorical
skills. At age 65, LaFontaine is in the late stage of his
political career and is already 21 years older than Hitler when
Hitler came to power in January 1933.