Soberness, tear-jerkers, and the modern underclass 

This is actually NOT another post about conservative Austrian chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel, who has recently been compared unfavourably in the Austrian media to German top politicians Gerhard Schröder and Joschka Fischer for his failure to empathise in public with the population and the victims of the tsunami disaster. Schüssel took the offensive yesterday, as reported and commented in DerStandard [DE] (via warteschlange [DE]), asserting that he was personally strictly opposed to playing some kind of messias on the public stage whose role was to moderate the universal hope for salvation. Schüssel's proclaimed alternative guideline was "sober professionalism".

One can see how this goes against the slightly tear-jerking aspects of politicians like Schröder, Fischer, but also Tony Blair for sure, or, on the local scale, SPÖ-leader Alfred Gusenbauer and his often ill-fated attempts at populist sentimentalism.

Yet, frankly, I cannot identify with either camp in this divide. As a political moralist, I believe that when enormous suffering occurs it should be given a representation in politics. But the current creed of European socialdemocrats does not seem sufficiently engaged with social evil to make their championing of such causes sound true. I have come to know them as banner-bearers for some segments of the materially underpriviledged, but all too often, especially when in opposition, the recipes modern socialdemocrats espouse to counter some material injustice are unsound, impracticable, and superficial - as the politicians themselves and their advisors are presumably well aware. In fact, their sense of social injustice is often selective and unduly influenced by voter demographics.

German magazine Der Stern recently published a (slightly sensationalist) report [DE] on the modern underclass in the German town of Essen (via Berlin Sprouts). The modern underclass, the report argues, does not suffer from poverty or material shortcomings. Its discrimination is therefore not touched by socialdemocrat taxing-and-spending. The distinguishing characteristic of the modern underclass is its lack of higher-level education (which it propagates to its children) and the resulting lack of viable options to integrate productively (as opposed to parasitically) in the post-industrial German society.

I would claim that there exists no major political force in Europe that seriously attempts to engage this modern underclass with realistic programmes for the present time. The most the underclass is offered is fuzzy emotional shoulder-patting (from the left) or the old poisons of prejudice and xenophobia (from the right). What is needed is a political voice that can communicate to this underclass in an authentic way, based on a set of realistic programmatic options. And yes, this is more important than Mr Schüssel's soberness.


I totally agree with your conclusion. The question is whether any of the major political forces has the capability to avoid both options (shoulderpatting or poison). Frankly, I don't see them.
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