(Bloomberg Opinion) -- The election is billed as epochal. The country in question is large, rich and important. The issues are huge. With these ingredients, you’d expect a high-minded clash of big ideas, wouldn’t you? A stark choice between competing answers to historic problems. A debate about the right direction for the coming generation..Alas, Germany is instead snoozing toward its federal election on Sep. 26. So far, the campaign is not only underwhelming, banal and disappointing, it’s a disgrace for a self-respecting democracy. .The vote is historic because, for the first time since 1949, the incumbent chancellor is not running as a candidate, thus assuring that a new leader will take over. And yes, the election is also wide open in the sense that several ostensibly very different coalition permutations are conceivable. .This would seem to be an ideal starting point to discuss topics that will determine the future of Germany, Europe and the world. The list starts with the pandemic and continues with climate change, technological disruption, Russian aggression, Chinese ascendancy and American distraction..Intertwined with all these topics, there are questions about the future of the European Union, in which Germany is considered the leading nation; the multilateral trading system, within which Germany has thrived for decades; and the collective defense of the West, in which Germany stands accused of shirking its duties. .But you wouldn’t know any of this by listening to the candidates. The next chancellor will almost certainly be either Armin Laschet, the premier of North Rhine-Westphalia and leader of the center-right Christian Democrats, or Annalena Baerbock, the frontwoman of the environmentalist Greens. A third candidate, Olaf Scholz of the Social Democrats, who’s also finance minister, stands no chance but is included out of habit, because his party used to matter in German politics. .Neither of the men has an iota of charisma. Laschet flails around between moments of wishy-washy centrism and buffoonish levity — he was recently filmed giggling with his minions in the background as the country’s president groped for solemn words to say to victims in a flood zone. Scholz comes across as a wooden functionary who mouths leftish ideas that he doesn’t even believe to please his party, which he doesn’t even control. .Baerbock has also disappointed. Two decades younger than her opponents and the only woman in the race, she briefly seemed like a fresh face when she was nominated. But after a series of blunders — she misstated things on her resume, for example — she’s turned defensive. Voters appear to have concluded she’s not ready for prime time..The resulting mood in the electorate fluctuates somewhere between indifference and disdain. Germans vote for parties, not chancellors, but if they had a direct ballot only 15% would plump for Laschet, 18% for Baerbock and 21% for Scholz, according to a new survey by Forsa, a polling institute. As they say, that’s basically blood relatives and paid staffers..Mind you, the contenders do have views on the challenges the next government will face. They used to debate them at nerdy conferences and seminars. But since becoming candidates, they appear to have heeded the unspoken German law of politics: Say nothing clear, meaningful or simple — ideally, say nothing at all..The manifestos of the three parties — it’s not clear how much input the candidates had in the drafting — are tomes of vague and pompous prose meant to appease everybody, offend nobody and risk nothing. The conservative text weighs in at 139 pages; the Green one at 271. They are filled with empty calories: Who could be against “solidarity” or “stability”? The authors were clearly hoping that nobody reads this bilge closely enough to notice that almost every paragraph contradicts several that come only a few pages later. .Having covered the last two German elections, I’ve always been struck by a remarkable provincialism in the EU’s most populous country, which is also one of the world’s most open economies. One explanation for the pusillanimity of those campaigns used to be that the reigning chancellor, Angela Merkel, deliberately struck a soothing tone to sedate voters into keeping her around. This strategy was called “asymmetric demobilization.” It worked wonders. .But the current crop of candidates has neither the incentive nor the skill to deploy such sophisticated tactics. A horrible suspicion rears its head: Maybe these three really are pusillanimous, mediocre and boring. Maybe this is the best that German democracy can come up with..It would be unfair to expect elections in Germany’s parliamentary democracy to resemble those in the personality-driven presidential systems of the U.S. or France, or the rambunctious first-past-the-post electoral culture of the U.K., all of which tend to produce colorful characters, for better or worse. .By contrast, postwar Germany’s democracy was built in large part to avoid extremes and discourage demagogues, of which the country had quite enough in the past. It’s meant instead to foster conciliation, compromise and moderation. The fact that it generally does is something that Germans can be proud of. .But Germans should also reflect that this same culture increasingly favors small-bore pedantry and evasive pontification. It produces campaigns and elections befitting a nation that wants to remain a spectator in world politics rather than an actor. The candidates aren’t blameless in this failure. But the ultimate responsibility lies with German voters. After all, as a French philosopher once said, every nation gets the government it deserves..This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners..Andreas Kluth is a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion. He was previously editor in chief of Handelsblatt Global and a writer for the Economist. He's the author of "Hannibal and Me." .©2021 Bloomberg L.P.