A friend of mine was at a business conference recently, attended mainly by savvy, honorable entrepreneurs who worry every day about how they will pay their taxes and their employees. In order to be at this particular conference, they obviously belong to that category of heroic Greek business people who have survived the crisis so far. I think Frank Sinatra’s “if I can make it there, I’m gonna make it anywhere” applies to them.
The conference also included a panel of politicians – who managed to outrage the entire room. A man from the opposition called the prime minister and the government “bootlickers;” a lawmaker with the ruling coalition accused the opposition of being “common criminals.” It was basically one of those discussions only morning talkshow addicts can appreciate. The issue is that it leads nowhere. The delegates were in despair because they needed to hear practical solutions to the myriad problems they face. They are repulsed by the sight of politicians sniping at each other and taking turns to blame one another for the memorandums.
Today’s government has a big responsibility for the vulgarity that’s pervaded public discourse. It has confused vulgarization with radicalism. It has normalized the rhetoric used by Golden Dawn to attack the media and nurtured extreme views that now target Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras himself. The government is making a huge mistake. It believes it can be redeemed for the huge compromises it has made by unleashing its Dobermans. It’s not like that, however. Voters who are used to the vulgarities have learned how to distinguish imitation anti-establishment sentiment from the real thing. The danger for Tsipras now is that voters will look for this sentiment elsewhere. As we’ve said before, when you feed the insatiable beast of populism, you will find yourself staring at its teeth.
As far as New Democracy is concerned, it must free itself of outdated rhetoric, of the tired cadres who resemble actors reprising a role they first played 20 years ago. The leader and five or six serious voices in the party is not enough to portray a new image. I know how hard it is to get young and incorruptible people into politics nowadays. As a country, we’re paying a high price because we’ve left politics to career hacks, wannabes and television mouthpieces.
When serious and well-adjusted people start to feel that the power game is now also being played by gangs, it takes a lot of courage to get involved. There’s no other way than a radical makeover, however, which includes both the staff and the rhetoric. SYRIZA played its new versus old card brilliantly. Now it too is getting old – and fast – and needs something new to challenge it.