However Willy Brandt and the new government in Bonn handle power, the fact remains that once again the Social Democrats have been swindled out of their proper majority. Of all those who fought for change, Günter Grass will be among the least astonished by this: this is not the first time that he has seen the Christian Democrats slip on a weighted glove for the last round of an election contest. In 1965, they called Willy Brandt a Red, a bastard, and a renegade, and reversed an unfavorable poll trend to come out on top. In 1969, on the excuse of a modest run on the Deutschmark, the alliance of Kiesinger’s Christian Democrats (CDU) and Strauss’s Christian Socialists (CSU) shut the currency exchanges three days before the poll and blamed Professor Schiller—the Social Democrat (SPD) Economics Minister in the coalition government—for undermining the currency. It worked, of course. Again the CDU/CSU braked the swing toward the Social Democrats, as an electorate ancestrally terrified of inflation jerked back in shock. Brandt saved enough with which to build a coalition, but the Christian Democrats came out as the largest single party.
Two years ago, Grass wrote that “there is no ground for hope that voters have…attained a maturity that would enable them in 1969 to give a party with the best political record a clear-cut majority.” It would be cheering to hear what Grass can now add to this triumphant prophecy, with his second unauthorized election campaign for the Social Democrats behind him. As he says, he is a spectacularly bad loser: the 1969 election results in West Germany should reveal his talents as an ungrateful winner.
Here and there a memorable remark was made by one or the other politician during the 1969 campaign, dull as it was. But the only words worth preserving from the 1965 election, that humiliating auction of security, were Grass’s own platform speeches, grouped together under the title “Democracy, of Thee I Sing.” Two of them open this collection. They have lasted well. In the name of the SPD—though the party was too nervous to sponsor him openly—Grass set out on a one-man election tour of West Germany, a tour of the broad backsides of received ideas by a writer in hobnailed boots. The rudeness and the eloquence, the wit and common sense of these speeches made them famous. His target then was authority: the pomposity and blindness of “restoration” Germany, the creation of Adenauer, and the Prussian discipline of East Germany, the creation of Ulbricht. The young Christian Democrats screamed: the Left cheered.
Four years passed. In 1966, Grass’s beloved Willy took the SPD into a coalition with Kiesinger which shocked the party’s left wing and provoked Grass to several open letters (reprinted here). In 1969, however, Grass embarked on a second private-enterprise campaign for the SPD backed this time by the Social-Democrat Voters’ Initiative, a freshly founded action group whose purpose was to …