This summer an increasing number of sensible, politically aware and reasonable Greeks told me that they intend to vote for SYRIZA, and in a few cases, even Golden Dawn.
I expressed surprise that people who had fervently supported the traditional political parties, Conservative New Democracy, “Socialist” PASOK and even the rather banal and boring Communist KKE in the past would vote for parties that they themselves characterized as dysfunctional.
They had a simple explanation. The Greek political system has no means to effect meaningful change within the present political structure so they will vote for a party that cannot govern and will, if elected, crash the system and allow, God willing, for a new system to arise from the rubble.
In their eyes, the Greek political parties are the creatures of an Unholy Trinity that binds together corrupt politicians, a dozen or so oligarchs and public sector union leaders.
This Trinity will not allow any change in a system that has enriched them and that promises to keep them in power into the indefinite future. This Trinity also ensures that nobody can arise within the political structure who might have new ideas. (The Chinese Communist Party, by comparison, is the poster child of dynamic change from within.)
The Greek system depends on a complex system of corruption and patronage that has created a mindset among its constituents that their livelihood depends solely on supporting the party.
Particularly among older Greek citizens (now a majority of the electorate), the political party inspires the same loyalty as their football team, somewhat akin to Washingtonians supporting the Redskins through one losing season after another.
They point out that Greece’s membership in the European Union has only solidified the country’s dysfunctional politics. Membership in the Eurozone prevents Greece from devaluing its way into competitiveness and by, denominating its debt in Euros, makes leaving the Eurozone an exercise in self-immolation.
Furthermore, the EU and its “Troika” has shown no interest in promoting clean government or in revitalizing the Greek economy, only in scavenging the last cent out of the Greek population.
Finally, EU membership provides a safety valve for dynamic Greek youth: they can pick up their European passports and go find a job elsewhere in the North rather than stay home and revolt.
Therefore, as Greeks despair of changing the political system through elections they have turned to desperate measures: voting for political parties that cannot govern. SYRIZA bears little resemblance to your standard conventional political party.
It came together as a coalition of 13 small parties, running the gamut from Maoists, Communists, and Greens to mild Socialists, none of which were strong enough alone to reach the 4% voting threshold needed to secure a Parliamentary seat.
SYRIZA’s political platform rests entirely on bashing the traditional parties. No one believes SYRIZA’s unity would survive running a government for more than a few weeks.
Greekification of American politics may be a clumsy term but an accurate representation. In another time, not too many years ago, both American political parties were “big tents” loosely held together by a common desire to win elections but little else.
Democrats included racist Southern Dixiecrats, trade unionists and liberal progressive northerners. Republicans gathered rural Midwesterners, socially liberal small businessmen, big businessmen and an equal number of internationally minded socially liberal urbanites whose practiced fiscal conservatism by raising taxes (91% marginal rate under Eisenhower).
Outside the Old South, there were few “safe” Congressional districts. Members of Congress voted the interests of their districts, and could safely ignore party discipline.
They often crossed the aisle to vote with the other party. Senators were a collegial bunch whose party labels meant less than the dignity and effectiveness of the Senate.
Today, for reasons too complicated to enumerate here, we have transformed American politics. Party discipline dominates. Few dare cross the aisle.
The parties have so redrawn that a very small minority of partisan stalwarts determines the candidates. American government has become dysfunctional and paralyzed between two political parties that can count on the unquestioning blind support of their most fevered members.
The majority of Americans, who no longer have any control over the selection of the party leadership, have begun to mimic the desperation of Greek citizens. Our circumstances are different. We are a much larger, more powerful and richer country, owning the dominant world currency.
But the sense of malaise and great discomfort is beginning to resemble that in Greece. Even with unemployment down and the stock market skyrocketing, we seem to have given up hope in the future.
In fact, I would suggest that we have gone Greek. Most voters stayed home this year. Those who did vote, voted for the GOP, a political party that has no coherent platform other than opposition to a lackluster president and whose conflicting internal political tendencies guarantee it will probably not be able to govern should it win elections.
Is this not the equivalent of a vote for SYRIZA?
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