A German lesson for campaigners

The West German election campaign wasn't all dull, dumb, or ugly, to use favorite epithets of observers on the spot. Its mostly predicted outcome included an unpredicted spurt of apparent voter enthusiasm for a party that tried to maintain a campaign lebel more fitting for civilized politics. The point should not be lost amid all the analysis (mainly positive) of what the strong confirmation of Chancellor Schmidt at the helm means for such matters as his country's internal stability, its relations with allies, and its role in East-West detente.

For the politicians of any nation might find a word to the wise in how the tone of a campaign can become an issue in itself. In the United States, for example, the verbal attacks have been had enough without going as far as those between the major German parties. Before the voting the president of the lower house of the Parliament was moved to express the hope that the campaign would serve as a lesson bringing "more humanity and less defamation back to politics."

It was a lesson that the Free Democratic Party, the junior partner of the Social Democrats in Mr. Schmidt's winning coalition, sought to teach during the campaign itself.Its leader, Foreign Minister Genscher, offered "fairness and factual politics" as opposed what he called the "public moronization" of the campaign. Unlike the Social Democrats and the Christian Democratic opposition led by Franz Josef Strauss, the Free Democrats remained free of criticism by a fair election practices committee. And the voters seemed to pay attention: After reverses last spring, the Free Democrats came back to score the election's biggest gains -- winning 53 seats (up by 14) in Parliament and over 10 percent of the popular vote, more than they had ever received before. By comparison, the Social Democrats did not do much more than hold their own, adding only four seats, while the Christian Democrats and affiliated Christian Social Union hit their lowest point since the federal republic's first election in 1949.

At first reports Mr. Genscher did no crowing about his party's campaign style. He was cautious in discussing why it may have won. Apart from style, it offered a middle-ground "liberal" alternative to the conservative Christian Democrats and to the Social Democratic left -- which makes the Free Democrats useful to Mr. Schmidt in keeping that left in hand.

But Mr. Genscher's party deputy was less reticent. He saw the Free Democrats' gains as meaning "a clear rejection of verbal radicalism in this country." It is a rejection worth emulating elsewhere.

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