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WSJ: Opinion Journal

Editorial Page

November 19, 2002

Tax Man

Elmar Brandt might just be the funniest German you've never heard of. At least until now. Mr. Brandt's stock-in-trade is his ability to do a dead-on voice impersonation of German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. It's a skill that's served him well -- most recently bringing the entertainer to the top of Germany's pop music charts.

In his hit track "Der Steuersong" ("The Tax Song"), Mr. Brandt capitalizes on Germans' rapidly growing dissatisfaction with their recently re-elected tax-happy chancellor: "I'll jack up your taxes/Elected is elected, you can't fire me now/That's the beauty of democracy," croons Mr. Brandt-cum-Schroeder in snappy verse (which rhymes in German), to the tune of the summer's faddish Spanish dance number, "The Ketchup Song."

"Dog tax, tobacco tax, car and environment tax, did you really think that more wasn't on the way?" The music video shows a greedy Chancellor Schroeder puppet taxing and taxing, until a safe falls on him at the end.

Most Germans seem to be laughing; except, that is, Mr. Schroeder himself. Not even a faint self-deprecating chuckle from the chancellor, who famously tried to take a journalist to court for suggesting that the middle-aged politician dyes his hair (which explains Mr. Brandt's coy reference to a "hair color tax" in his song.) Indeed, there has been some speculation that he might sue Mr. Brandt, although this appears unlikely.

Of course, musical political satire about the "greedy hand" of government is nothing new -- the English-speaking world will remember the Beatles' 1966 classic "Tax Man." But in Germany right now, it carries particular punch.

Mr. Schroeder's problem is that he was re-elected by a narrow margin less than two months ago. Since then, as the phenomenal success of Mr. Brandt's ditty suggests, the chancellor has suffered the fastest drop in popularity of any newly elected post-war government. His fondness for "grabbing down deep in [Germans'] pockets," to quote again from Mr. Brandt, certainly plays a major role in his abysmal opinion-poll ratings.

We could run through the well-rehearsed list of ways in which Chancellor Schroeder has made Germans pay dearly for their decision to elect and re-elect him. Instead, we'll just crib some more lines from Mr. Brandt's tune: "Earth-surface-use tax, breathing impact tax/Air's gonna get expensive/And I'm not even close to done./A tooth-tax for food-chewing/A bio tax on digestion . . ." Well, you get the idea. And judging from the position of this song on the pop charts, Germans get the idea, too.

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