It's the Economy, Dummkopf

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BONN: Call it the Clinton effect. You're a rising star of the left -- a smart, charismatic baby-boomer. You've turned your back on the social protest of your youth and marched straight onto middle ground -- stealing the odd piece of conservative clothing along the way. By the time you get tipped for the top, many of your policies are indistinguishable from your opponent's. Your look, however, is. Before long, pundits start whispering magic phrases -- "a new generation in politics," "appealing to middle-class voters" and the most mystical word of all -- "telegenic."

That's Gerhard Schroeder, nominated Monday to lead the German Social Democrats into battle against Chancellor Helmut Kohl this September. It could, of course, just as easily be Bill Clinton in 1992 or Tony Blair in 1997. With a thumping victory in the Lower Saxony governor's race Sunday -- something Kohl had pledged to stop at all costs -- Schroeder seems to have acquired the same lucky charm that carried his contemporaries into the White House and Downing Street.

Will he make it to the chancellery? "The Kohl era is over," Schroeder declared Sunday. The problem is, four SDP leaders in 16 years have gone down in flames after arrogantly assuming they could trounce the mighty chancellor. But with German unemployment now at 12.6 percent -- the highest it's been in the boomer generation's lifetime -- Kohl could be looking for a job himself this fall. And Schroeder will feel his pain.