The Danish Prime Minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, went to Texas this weekend to visit his old friend George W. “Mission Accomplished” Bush. Political civility aside, Mr. Fogh managed to surprise quite a few of those present, perhaps not so much when he lauded Mr. Bush as a great democratic – that’s with a small “d” – activist as when he called the U.S. president a great environmentalist.
According to reports, even weathered US media insiders wondered what the h%” was going on here.
You could of cause argue that this was an outpouring of sentiment at a casual meeting between two old buddies if it wasn’t for the fact that a) there is no such thing as friendship in politics and b) Anders Fogh Rasmussen is a person who keeps his public sentiments very much under control. He has been in national politics since the late 1970s and knows how to weigh his words. So why this eulogy for a lame-duck president with dismal popularity ratings which has left journalists and politicians stunned?
My guess is that Fogh is deliberately targeting a certain section of the national audience – most likely the segment of blue-collar voters that the Liberals and the Danish People’s Party captured from the Social Democrats between 1998 and 2001. In many ways, today’s Denmark is a country Karl Rove would like to live in: The political left-wing self-destructed ten years ago in a major electoral realignment and has never really managed to recover, and on what the Americans call “social issues” – minus abortion, which left the political agenda in the 1970s – the authoritarian wing holds the upper hand.1
In foreign and security policy, the Liberals, Conservatives and the Danish People’s Party are fiercely pro-US to the degree that even mildly questioning US policies are seen as acts of treason. There are ideological (the DPP, in particular, often seem inspired by neo-con standpoints) as well as pragmatic reasons for this – among large parts of the traditional bourgeois electorate, the opinion is that we should be grateful for enjoying US protection during the Cold War and consequently do not have the right to criticise the US. (This editorial in Berlingske Tidende is a fine example of this line of thinking)
Still, one of the great puzzles of this last decade is that anything related to the Iraq war and the use of torture in the “War on Terror” repeatedly has failed to reach the political agenda. The media and the political opposition have tried any number of times, but Fogh and the government has come out not just unharmed, but strengthened from each attempt. Even if the undoing of Tony Blair, José Maria Aznar and a couple of other guys supporting the Iraq was had other reasons as well, Fogh’s position is unique.
Environmental policy is a trickier question. The Liberals and the DPP have been somewhat to the right of Dick Cheney on this issue – the Liberals have made a careful move towards the centre while the DPP still denies that climate change could possibly be driven by CO2-emissions – and it is probably something that the voters gained from the Social Democrats in the 2001 and later elections really couldn’t care less about. The Conservatives – while emotionally attached to the US – have chosen a greener path. On the other hand, the 2007 election showed that the risk of a large-scale defection of Conservative voters was minimal.
The commentator Peter Mogensen finally suspects that Anders Fogh Rasmussen deliberately plays the ideological pro-US card at a time where the Social Democrats yet again have shown substantial insecurity about their political goals and tactics. Again, if you assume that Fogh was targeting the former Social Democrats among his and the DPP’s voters, this appears to be a reasonable interpretation.
PS: The Washington Post on the come-together. Here, next year’s climate conference was the main topic.
- Everything is relative: The Danish Authoritarian-Libertarian scale is well to the “left” of the American [↩]