- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 6, 2005

‘Are you better off?’ Schroeder challenger asks

BERLIN — German conservative leader Angela Merkel borrowed famous lines used by Ronald Reagan in his 1980 presidential debate in her prime-time duel with Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, her party said yesterday.

Mrs. Merkel’s closing statement in her Sunday television clash with Mr. Schroeder echoed Mr. Reagan’s memorable conclusion to his face-off with President Carter, when he urged voters to ask themselves whether they were “better off.”

“Frau Merkel was certainly inspired by Ronald Reagan,” a spokesman for her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party told Reuters when asked about reports that she had plagiarized the powerful lines from Mr. Reagan.

The spokesman added that Mrs. Merkel’s well-rehearsed conclusion also reflected arguments she had made while campaigning for the Sept. 18 election: that Mr. Schroeder broke promises and mismanaged the economy.

“In two weeks, you will make your election decision,” Mrs. Merkel said Sunday, turning to smile into the camera.

“Perhaps it will help you to answer a few questions when you make that decision: Is our country better off than it was seven years ago? Is growth higher? Is unemployment lower? Is there less bureaucracy? Are our pensions and health care system secure?

“If you answer all those questions ‘yes,’ then I think it’s very obvious whom you’ve decided to vote for,” she said. “But if you have doubts, if you don’t want this course to continue, then you have a choice with the [opposition].”

The lines mirrored Mr. Reagan’s closing statement in his 1980 showdown with Mr. Carter:

“Next Tuesday, all of you will go to the polls … and make a decision,” Mr. Reagan said at the time.

“It might be well if you would ask yourself: Are you better off than you were four years ago? … Is there more or less unemployment in the country than there was four years ago? Is America as respected throughout the world as it was? Do you feel that our security is as safe, that we’re as strong as we were four years ago?

“And if you answer all of those questions ‘yes,’ why then, I think your choice is very obvious as to whom you will vote for. If you don’t agree, if you don’t think that this course that we’ve been on for the last four years is what you would like to see us follow for the next four, then I could suggest another choice that you have.”

Mr. Reagan, who died last year at the age of 93, easily won the 1980 election. The rhetorical question he posed in the debate is seen as the signature phrase of his campaign.

Mr. Reagan is remembered in Germany for his 1987 appeal to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down” the Berlin Wall, but his military buildup made him a divisive figure.

Klaus Uwe, secretary of Mr. Schroeder’s center-left Social Democrats, accused Mrs. Merkel of “cheap plagiarism” in trying to “fool the voters.”

“She’s imitating the tricks of the arch-conservative ex-American president,” he charged.

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