Sigmar Gabriel has an unmistakable instinct for mood and current events.
In past years, he has handled things responsibly by instinct.
On the topic of German anti-Islam movement Pegida, on the other hand, the vice chancellor has gotten off on the wrong track. He may run into trouble within his own Social Democrat party as a result.
In the past, when Mr. Gabriel still had a reputation as a political rogue, he simply jumped on every train. Populist to the edge of what was considered tolerable, the Social Democrat managed media with bold theories and nice-sounding but empty rhetoric.
He usually performed skillfully at exactly the right moment.
With age and experience, he became more mature.
He learned to hold back. Since Mr. Gabriel became vice chancellor and economics minister in 2013 in coalition with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats, he has no longer dived into every debate and has given fewer interviews. That has been good for him and his party.
Mr. Gabriel knows very well that a number of Social Democrat voters are frustrated.
And yet now, the old Mr. Gabriel is flaring up again when it comes to the rightist edge of Germany's angry middle-class. There is a democratic right to be right leaning or a German nationalist, he told Stern magazine.
He made this remark after he surprisingly visited a Pegida-discussion group in the eastern German city of Dresden, the home of the anti-immigrant movement and center of its marches.
Naturally, Mr. Gabriel's statements are factually unassailable. But they are politically insensitive. They smell of “one should be able to say that!” and with that, have an ingratiating undertone.
Mr. Gabriel has familiarized himself with the election and popularity polls. He knows very well that a number of Social Democratic voters are frustrated and are drawn to parties and movements on the political right.
This will also upset the leader of the Social Democrats, but it should not derail him from his course.
Starting a dialogue with right-wing movements does not begin by showing understanding for a questionable world view. The fear of an imminent islamization of the West is a remote and an unfounded view.
The vice chancellor is an intelligent politician who should easily be able to counter arguments of the rightists. A little bit more courage in the debates on and with Pegida and its fans would suit Mr. Gabriel -- and Germany.
Video: The cartoonist Dieter Hanitzsch shows how to draw Sigmar Gabriel.
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