U.S. can learn from Germany's new chancellor

General elections mostly deadlocked, the ruling party was rapidly losing power and heading straight for a complete stalemate. Chaos seemed inevitable, until the improbable happened.

This was the situation in Germany last month, after Chancellor Gerhard Schr?der?s power base eroded and he called for elections to shore up his ranks.

The big surprise? After a huge deadlock, the two major parties decided to work together. They agreed to have a split cabinet and a new chancellor. A corollary surprise? The new chancellor is a woman.

Perhaps the only word suitable to describe Angela Merkel is ?improbable.? Born in 1954 to a Lutheran pastor in Communist East Germany, she turned to politics after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Former chancellor Helmut Kohl put her in a cabinet-level position in 1994.

After the 1998 ousting of Kohl?s government, she carefully distanced herself and ended up in control of the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU). Another improbable feat for the Protestant Merkel, considering Catholic men from the southwestern parts of the country form the CDU?s traditional base of support.

In the September 18 elections, neither Merkel?s CDU nor Schr?der?s Social Democratic Party (SPD) won a majority for their traditional coalitions in the Bundestag; only by creating a grand coalition of the two parties and negotiating serious compromise did the election finish.

As a politician, Merkel is hard not to like. Her moderate views bridge party affiliations. She is able to make hard and even biting evaluations of situations without alienating people. She supports stronger ties with the U.S. while still quick to point out the failures of the Bush government.

Really, the fact that Germany would elect a woman chancellor shouldn?t come as a surprise to anybody. It is refreshing, perhaps, but unsurprising; many have been quick to draw parallels with the United Kingdom?s Thatcher government of over 20 years ago.

The real point has nothing to do with gender equality or having another female head of state. The Grand Coalition formed by the political parties is the greater example here. What would happen if the Republicans and Democrats got together like the CDU and SPD? A government more interested in getting things done, perhaps?

This points to the relative merit of a parliamentary system with multiple true parties. The cooperation in Germany is necessitated by the existence of five major political parties and a Chancellor elected by the Bundestag itself instead of by the people. Unlike the United States, with its rigid bicameral set-up, Germany?s parliamentary system allows opportunities for genuine compromise rather than unending antagonism.