A recent poll said that for 74 percent of Germans, Helmut Schmidt, German chancellor from 1974 to 1982 is the most important moral authority. As Sandra Maischberger said when she recently introduced him on her show, this put him ahead of the Pope, any other German politician ever and even Franz Beckenbauer.
But the inclusion of the pompous ad-whore Beckenbauer on this list just shows how foolish people are. Schmidt’s convictions are moderate and his politics are fairly reasonable, and he is, at 92, still unbelievably cogent and sharp.
But the reason so many Germans really love him is his languid, detached manner, which marks him down unmistakably as a Wise Man. As he gets older, he only grows into this role. The slower his movements, the further he leans to hear a question, the deeper his head bows when he’s thinking, the longer he pauses before the answer – all this just compels respect in a way. It’s got to the stage where Schmidt can actually command total confidence by not answering a question.
It’s all in the cigarettes, of course. There’s probably been no better way to convey wisdom than to stare at a long bit of ash dangling on the end of your cigarette while someone else is talking. He is totally majestic.
But the opinions themselves – on WikiLeaks, for example – are deeply affected by his age, and the fact that his word is still sought by us so much only betrays our underlying conservatism, and our anxiety and fear about the future. Merry Christmas.