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Angela Merkel's Subtle Climb Into History

After Sunday night's victory
After Sunday night's victory
Heribert Prantl

BERLIN — The all-conquering hero is traditionally a masculine figure, but in Angela Merkel it finds its feminine embodiment. Her election result is more than a victory; it is a triumph. Moreover, it is her triumph, and not her party’s. It is Merkel as an individual, as the chancellor with unprecedented approval ratings, who has won this election.

Thanks to her victory at the polls, Angela Merkel has risen almost to the level of Konrad Adenauer, the leader who won the Christian Democrats’ first and only absolute majority in 1957. That year was the high point of Adenauer’s career. For Merkel, we may one day be pointing back to 2013 as her apex. This election confirms that whatever the next term holds, her time in government constitutes an era – the era of Merkelism, of a subtle, unflashy brand of power politics.

She has been criticized as lacking in conviction. Some say that under her leadership the conservative element of the party has been replaced by a politics of vagueness. But for her many supporters, Merkel is anything but indecisive.

German voters see their Chancellor as the representative of enlightened liberal-conservatism, a politician who does not shy away from recognizing gay marriage. Throughout the euro crisis, she has excelled in the role of the good German Hausfrau (homemaker) keeping a tight rein on the household expenses. And that is exactly what many Germans want.

In Merkel’s hands, power becomes mundane. That is what Germans want too. That is how her own popularity has remained untainted by her coalition’s faltering record. Anything that is going well is thanks to the Chancellor, while anything that goes badly is down to the coalition.

“No Experiments”

In 1957, Adenauer won an absolute majorityof 50.2% with a simple, innocuous slogan: “No Experiments.” The German people certainly didn’t want any. Adenauer had negotiated with Moscow to secure the return of the last war prisoners and could point to the reintegration of Saarland into West Germany as a resounding success.

Merkel has no such spectacular achievements, but the Germans are doing well and they believe that she has led them competently through the euro crisis. Perhaps a rude awakening lies in store on this front, but that remains to be seen. Merkel has been buoyed to victory by the German public’s belief that although almost every other country in Europe is going under, Germany is keeping its head above water.

And so Merkel could conclude her television debate against Peer Steinbrück with a reformulation of the old slogan: “You know me. You know what I want to do. We had four good years.”

Adenauer’s victory 56 years ago was followed by crises that did not show the old man in his most flattering light. He almost lost the 1961 election, and it was only a matter of time until he lost the Chancellorship. But Merkel will not allow that to happen. She is too clever to try for a fourth term in office.

The post-Merkel future is ever more uncertain. The leadership ranks of her CDU party that used to dominate the German political scene have withered. Without Angela Merkel, the party is nothing. That is the flipside of her triumph: when she is gone, it will be time for another party to step up to the mark.

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In Northern Kenya, Where Climate Change Is Measured In Starving Children

The worst drought in 40 years, which has deepened from the effects of climate change, is hitting the young the hardest around the Horn of Africa. A close-up look at the victims, and attempts to save lives and limit lasting effects on an already fragile region in Kenya.

Photo of five mothers holding their malnourished children

At feeding time, nurses and aides encourage mothers to socialize their children and stimulate them to eat.

Georgina Gustin

KAKUMA — The words "Stabilization Ward" are painted in uneven black letters above the entrance, but everyone in this massive refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya, calls it ya maziwa: The place of milk.

Rescue workers and doctors, mothers and fathers, have carried hundreds of starving children through the doors of this one-room hospital wing, which is sometimes so crowded that babies and toddlers have to share beds. A pediatric unit is only a few steps away, but malnourished children don’t go there. They need special care, and even that doesn’t always save them.

In an office of the International Rescue Committee nearby, Vincent Opinya sits behind a desk with figures on dry-erase boards and a map of the camp on the walls around him. “We’ve lost 45 children this year due to malnutrition,” he says, juggling emergencies, phone calls, and texts. “We’re seeing a significant increase in malnutrition cases as a result of the drought — the worst we’ve faced in 40 years.”

From January to June, the ward experienced an 800 percent rise in admissions of children under 5 who needed treatment for malnourishment — a surge that aid groups blame mostly on a climate change-fueled drought that has turned the region into a parched barren.

Opinya, the nutrition manager for the IRC here, has had to rattle off these statistics many times, but the reality of the numbers is starting to crack his professional armor. “It’s a very sad situation,” he says, wearily. And he believes it will only get worse. A third year of drought is likely on the way.

More children may die. But millions will survive malnutrition and hunger only to live through a compromised future, researchers say. The longer-term health effects of this drought — weakened immune systems, developmental problems — will persist for a generation or more, with consequences that will cascade into communities and societies for decades.

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