So a German Social Democrat, a journalist, and the American ambassador walk into a newsroom…

… and I politely listen to their conversation. I won’t go into much detail about the panel I just attended at the headquarters of the German daily Tagesspiegel, but it was a good one, and here are a couple quick highlights:

– American ambassador to Germany Philip Murphy thinks Obama will win reelection this year. Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the SPD’s candidate for chancellor in 2009 and quite possibly the country’s next leader, thinks so too. Christoph von Marschall, Tagesspiegel American correspondent and the first German biographer of President Obama, isn’t so sure.

– A recurring topic was the shifting American focus away from Europe and toward Asia. Murphy repeatedly and emphatically urged his fellow panelists not to misinterpret this shift. If the US is seeking to take the model of its relations with Europe and apply it to the Far East, that’s only an affirmation of how strong the US-European bond is. Murphy said that when he came to Germany as ambassador in 2009, Germany’s investment in his (and my) home state of New Jersey was greater than its investment in all of China. US-European mutual investment is 60% of the world’s total international investment; 600,000 Americans in America work for German firms; and 600,000 Germans in Germany work for American firms. It’ll take decades, he insists, for the US-China relationship to come anywhere near there. (Coincidentally, there’s a column in tomorrow’s Tagesspiegel arguing that America’s impending withdrawal of half its troops stationed in Europe is a sign that their mission has succeeded — that the continent is now on good footing — and should be celebrated.)

– Murphy, unsurprisingly, repeatedly defended Obama’s record in his first time. Steinmeier, a bit more tepidly, did so too. Marschall, who just published a book titled “What’s Wrong With the Americans?”, thinks America is sort of insane (or at least alien from a German perspective) and is less bullish on Obama.

– There is, as has been clear for some time, a fundamental disagreement between Americans, who are mostly Keynesians (most of the sane ones, at least), and Germans, who are with very few exceptions not. Murphy and his countrymen think Germany’s current growth rate of around 0.5% isn’t enough, and it needs to be higher to pull the rest of Europe (and the world) along. Steinmeier thinks an aging Germany shouldn’t strive for the same rapid growth as a young America, and 0.5% is just fine, thank you very much. No need for the government to intervene with any kind of massive stimulus, as Tim Geithner pressed Germany to do.

– The moderator several times tried to get Steinmeier to say he’d soon be a chancellor candidate. Steinmeier brushed these attempts off with jokes, but certainly never denied them. It’s no secret that the guy wants to be chancellor.

– The chocolates in the reception area were delicious.


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