It is not primarily missteps and mishaps that cause problems for politicians and possibly end their careers. Politicians do themselves the most harm when they mishandle what is called a blunder, an affair, or a scandal. Defense Minister Lambrecht is currently providing object lessons on how not to do it – and in a deterrent way.
Yes, as things stand at present, it was formally correct that Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht (SPD) let her son fly in the Bundeswehr helicopter because she wanted to pay for the costs in accordance with the regulations. But it’s not always wise to do something just because it’s not forbidden. If the SPD politician had openly admitted this de facto vacation trip as a mistake, the headlines about her as a “helicopter mother” would have been less strident.
But what does the woman who is currently at the head of one of the most important departments do? She gives false information and also stylizes herself as a victim. She has not yet “covered” the cost of her son’s flight, according to her press office. Because the Bundeswehr administration is an authority, and things don’t happen that quickly in authorities. Embarrassing enough that the ministry has since had to correct itself.
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Quite apart from that, the administrative officials may not find it easy to find out the price of a Lufthansa economy ticket for the Berlin-Bramstedtlund route, the basis for the bill to the mother. Lufthansa does not even fly to this North Frisian location, which Lambrecht had chosen to visit the troops on the way to his Easter vacation. Sophisticated controllers will have to make highly complicated calculations.
One can confidently assume that the minister will still settle the bill, just as she always paid for her son’s numerous flights during her time as Minister of Justice. But it becomes downright embarrassing when the left-wing social democrat now stylizes herself as a victim and complains about a campaign against her. She was instinctive enough to take the 21-year-old with her in a helicopter to save him a five-hour train ride from Berlin to Sylt. And if the apparently equally instinctless and vain young gentleman hadn’t presented himself as a heli passenger on Instagram, no medium would have reported about it.
dr Hugo Müller-Vogg is a journalist, book author and former editor of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ).
Lambrecht and comrades who are loyal to her like to spread the word that her gender plays a particularly important role in the wide-ranging criticism of the minister. Every man in their position would also have been severely criticized if, for example, he had celebrated the delivery of 5,000 helmets to the Ukraine as a great act of German solidarity, thereby exposing the Federal Republic to international ridicule.
Lambrecht has been in the business long enough to know that even non-political mishaps by top politicians are always picked up by the media. When the Defense Minister at the time, Volker Rühe, stumbled during a visit to troops in Somalia in 1993, fell down and blamed the fall on his shoes, the falling minister became a permanent hit on television. For Ms. Lambrecht, however, photos showing her trudging through the desert sands in Mali in four-inch heels are part of a malicious campaign.
Furthermore, neither in the SPD nor in Lambrecht himself seems to have noticed that she is very often accompanied by a family member on business trips. This combination of service (of the mother) and pleasure (of the son) must seem strange to the commoners. There is a good reason why there is not a great deal of understanding for very well paid top politicians who allow their relatives to share in their own privileges.
Chancellor Helmut Kohl (CDU) was aware of this. When his youngest son Peter had a very serious accident in Italy in 1991, the chancellor had his wife taken there by the air force. But even before the plane took off, he had written a check for the approximate cost. That didn’t protect him from accusations that he was abusing his office for private purposes. But he was able to quickly refute this. In this case, Kohl showed the tact that Lambrecht lacks.
Would Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) have entrusted the defense department to the lawyer, who had never dealt with security policy before, if he had known that Putin’s attack on Ukraine was imminent? Hardly likely. However, since compliance with the quota for women was more important to him than competence in defense policy, this was the wrong appointment. The chancellor no longer thinks too much of his minister himself. This is evident from the fact that he took over the negotiations for the 100 billion package for the Bundeswehr. A head of government can hardly distance himself more clearly from a member of the cabinet.
If the strange combination of business and holiday trips by the minister and her son had been the only mishap so far, the media coverage would have been minimal. Helicopter gate, however, fits seamlessly into numerous cases of instinctive or embarrassing behavior. When the media point this out, it’s not a campaign at all – it’s part of their job.