Friday, October 9, 2009

All You Need is Credibility (Whatever This Means...)

There is a new 'magic word' in the world of politics: credibility. It was, of course, always important that voters believe in the word of politicians. When the German Liberals accepted a coalition under the chancellor Konrad Adenauer (CDU) in 1961 although they promised in their campaign to prevent Adenauer, for example, this corrupted the mutual trust of voters for the Liberals for years. But when you listen to statements of politicians and experts, it seems that credibility has never been more important to win elections than within the last years. Is the reason why the Social Democrats are losing one election after the other the lack of credibility as everyone claims? Is the reason that the CSU lost its dominance in the Bavarian party system due to lack of credibility? Is credibility the reason that the FDP is as strong as never before in history? -- Credibility won in eleven years of opposition?

Everybody -- even politicians themselves -- talks about credibility; everybody is repeating the same old phrases, me as well. But in doing so we forget to ask what credibility really means. One detail of this year's election result seems to be traitorous.

The basic message of the FDP-campaign was that they will not sign a coalition's agreement that does not stipulate expansive tax reductions, especially for the middle class. The other parties tried to reveal this as a lie in pointing out that due to the serious national budgetary situation tax reductions will be impossible for many years. And what is the opinion of people? The majority believes that within the next legislative period a tax increase will be unavoidable. However, this did not prevent them from voting for the Liberals. It is surprising that even most of the liberal voters do not expect that people's net income will increase in the future.

Scarcely anybody believes in the FDP's campaign pledge -- but this did not keep them from empowering the Liberals. In other words: In former times credibility meant foremost that politicians implement their promises after an election. Now it seems that this is not a precondition for credibility anymore as people reduced their expectations of politicians. To be precise voters do no longer believe in anything they say anymore.

German politicians and parties are confronted with people's "basic mistrust". Many polls support this evidence. In this context the call for credibility -- especially from the media and experts -- seems to be not more than the permanent evocation of a wish whose fulfilment nobody is really expecting. Thus, apparent analyses become the character of self-fulfilling prophecies. The disappointment about supposed lies of politicians is only faked. We had always known better.

Nowadays credibility is literally a synonym for the strained relationship between politicians and people (media and experts included). We, journalists and political scientists, should be more careful with our diction. Politicians should give us less opportunity to encourage our ego. Until then everything will stay the same: Credibility remains the ne plus ultra and no election can be won.

-- Michael Weigl

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