The mayor of Tübingen, Boris Palmer, is known for his provocative manner and for his questionable statements, with which he repeatedly causes outrage. Most recently last Friday when he commented on the way he used the “N-word” on the sidelines of a migration conference in Frankfurt am Main. When students shouted “Nazis out” at him in front of the building, Palmer completely derailed: “That’s nothing but the Jewish star. And that’s because I used a word that you tie everything else to.” If you say the wrong word, you’re a Nazi, he continued to rant at the demonstrators.
Companions and party friends distance themselves
With these statements, Palmer once again crossed borders and caused an uproar nationwide. The Goethe University in Frankfurt demanded an apology from him, companions distanced themselves. So did his lawyer and former party colleague Rezzo Schlauch, who found clear words: “No provocation, no matter how harsh, no insults and insults, no matter how vile, of radical left-wing provocateurs justified establishing a historical parallel to the Jewish star as a symbol of the persecution of Jews in Nazi Germany. There is nothing more to explain, to defend or to apologize for.” Baden-Württemberg’s Prime Minister Winfried Kretschmann expressed himself in a similar way: “With his comparison with the Jewish star, he has crossed a line that he must not cross,” said the Greens -Politician.
Palmer’s regret: “Never should have talked like that”
Apparently Palmer is now showing insight, because on Monday the controversial politician announced his departure from the party and a sabbatical as mayor. In a personal statement available to the German Press Agency and reported by Südwest-Rundfunk, he also apologized to the people he had disappointed and emphasized “that he should never have talked like that”. The fact that the impression was created that he was relativizing the Holocaust made him “unutterably sorry,” it said.
Psychologist on Palmer: ‘He’s confrontational about beliefs’
But why does a politician like Palmer, who should know better, freak out like that? Why does he allow himself to be carried away by such verbal gaffes? “These are presumably mistakes,” explains political psychologist Thomas Kliche in an interview with FOCUS online. These are involuntary actions and statements that were actually not intended. “With the constant stress that politicians are under, it’s a miracle that this doesn’t happen more often,” Kliche points out.
Such mistakes often go unnoticed, however, since they can easily be hidden behind routine in everyday political life. “Politicians often appear with ready-made template competencies regarding facts, arguments and their self-portrayal,” explains Kliche. In conflict situations, for example, they could very well weaken and devalue their counterparts, hidden behind flawless, non-violent communication, he explains. This is called communicative deprivation.
Palmer, however, goes a different way: “Palmer is not a hardened party soldier who uses such templates, but is someone who is ready for convictions,” continues the psychologist. As a stubborn and non-conformist politician, he acts very authentically and not according to ready-made models.
Nazi accusation hits Palmer’s sore spot
But that was exactly what became Palmer’s undoing. “The accusation of racism was the core of his inner-party exclusion, i.e. his failure in the Green Party and thus the worst accusation for him ever,” explains Kliche. A sore and vulnerable point that triggered the politician.
In terms of the situation, his reaction is therefore quite easy to explain: “In a personally bitter conflict, we experience pain and want to get even and exclude and hurt the other in the same way,” he explains. Instead of reacting professionally, friendly and defensively and to refute the Nazi allegations or to let them come to nothing, Palmer reacted emotionally uncontrolled and wrong. “The relativization of the Holocaust is an existential absurdity that is out of the question for anyone who wants to represent human dignity and sanity in politics,” criticizes Kliche.
Psychotherapy helps with impulse control
Palmer seems to have realized that too. One thing is clear to him, he does not want to continue like this, it says in his statement. He could no longer bear the recurring storms of outrage from his family, friends and supporters, the employees in the city administration, the municipal council and the city society as a whole. His serious intentions to ensure that something like this doesn’t happen again were unsuccessful. He also wants to take professional help during his time off.
What this looks like is not known, but people who react as emotionally and impulsively to stressful situations as Palmer do can seek psychotherapeutic help. In behavioral therapy, for example, those affected learn to better control their own feelings and affects. Among other things, it is analyzed
- Under what pressures do you lose control?
- trained in self-observation
- increased ability to de-escalate
- as well as quick-witted alternatives.
Since Palmer has often gotten lost with his statements, it is only questionable why the politician did not get help sooner. “He could have developed strategies against his impulsive reaction long ago,” says Kliche. While he can still do so now, his credibility and political standing have been severely damaged by his lack of impulse control.