Why has every US president invited only the Greeks and Irish to meet at the White House for each of the last 31 years, and what good does it do? The answer may surprise you.
In a president’s first term, the value of this meeting is particularly significant as his administration’s new officials jockey to impress. Quickly realizing the difficulty behind securing a place on the president’s schedule, even as White House staffers, they see this invitation to Greek Americans as a designation of importance. Consequently, doors of top Washington officials open for our issues and us.
Businessman and political insider Dennis Mehiel sees our meeting with the president as extraordinary political power appreciated by senators and members of Congress who realize it can potentially help them. This, coupled with our constant support of the key senators and members, gives us direct access to these leaders, not simply their staff. It motivates their connection and commitment to Hellenic and Orthodox policies.
The millions of dollars of work our office contributes, in close cooperation with the Church, to establish and maintain this annual White House meeting, in addition to events for senators and members, has paid significant dividends for our issues – enabling us to: (1) move one White House to switch Germany and France’s objection to Cyprus’s early EU accession and stop another from pressing the EU to require a Turkish-agreed-to Cyprus settlement before accession; (2) move Assistant Secretary Dick Holbrooke to spend major American political capital demanding the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) remove threats to Macedonia from its constitution; and (3) with the Archons, move Turkey, through our government, to grant citizenship to our metropolitans, without which Ecumenical Patriarchal succession could halt in the absence of qualified citizenship.
Behind-the-scenes Washington effectiveness is barely visible from Athens and Nicosia. Some years ago, Cyprus bypassed our relationships and spent $1.5 million a year on Washington’s top lobby/law firm. Sadly, they discovered that large firms: (1) spend their top White House and Congressional chits on their longest-term mega-clients and (2) do not contribute 1 to 5 million dollars in annual pro bono advocacy. In our absence, the half of Congress we made advocates for Cyprus virtually disappeared and the State Department pressed the Annan Plan Greek Cypriots rejected.
Why have US presidents met only with the Irish and Greeks for the past 31 years? Owner of one of the world’s largest short-selling firms and historian Jim Chanos notes: 70 percent of modern presidents trace their ancestry to Ireland, the second largest nationality in America. Political powerhouse Senator Teddy Kennedy established this meeting. Yet there has never been a Greek-American president and Greeks account for one-half of 1 percent of Americans, ranking 32nd among US diasporas.
The answer involves Greek ingenuity, Orthodoxy and philotimo – the love of honor. These uniquely Greek characteristics enabled our leaders to develop extremely close relationships with America’s top officials. This moves our deeply spiritual and intelligent Archbishop Demetrios to lead our national community to the White House and make our case with presidents. And, it allows for the genius of Father Alex Karloutsos to lend his magic behind the scenes.
Our philotimo and Orthodoxy contribute to the universal admiration for our people across US locales, according to Michael Psaros, who runs the world’s leading private equity firm focused on manufacturing and industry – a feeling not unnoticed by members of Congress, senators or the White House. Our annual Greek festivals at churches across the country, which are very popular with non-Greeks, keep Hellenism and Orthodoxy’s profile positive and high. Members of our community’s leading organizations, like AHEPA, AHI and Cypriot groups, also help our image.
Through the rapidly growing National Hellenic Society that he founded and now chairs, Silicon Valley real estate titan George Marcus has discovered a way to reverse the dilution of Hellenism in America. From Boston to Los Angeles, NHS brings together our most successful Hellenes to celebrate and enjoy our heritage.
We owe much to a handful of our most generous Hellenes/Orthodox who match Father Karloutsos’s ultimate standard – “I am not impressed by how much money you have, but what you do with it.” Without the exemplars of philotimo highlighted above digging deep within their pockets, none of these accomplishments would be possible. They are following the charge of George P. Livanos, Andrew A. Athens and George Paraskeviades. Decades-long supporters of senators and members key to our efforts also include Nikos Mouyiaris, Philip Christopher, John Catsimatidis, Angelo Tsakopoulos, Eleni Kounalakis and Alex and Dean Spanos, among others.
* Andy Manatos is CEO and Mike Manatos president of Manatos & Manatos, a government relations and public policy company which deals also with Greek and Orthodox issues in Washington.