His aim, he said, was to better understand the concerns of ordinary Germans.In speeches before packed union halls, beer tents, and farmers markets, Schulz, a prominent member of the troubled Social Democratic Party (SPD), touted the classic values of social democracy—fairness and dignity.

Kua 2bSuch values, in his mind, translated into things like free education, a fairer unemployment-insurance system, and a progressive tax code.

While it was at first unclear whether…