Same threat, new packaging

In 2004, Prime Minister Costas Simitis didn?t even give Evangelos Venizelos a chance to run for president of PASOK. Three years later, in the 2007 battle for the Socialist party leadership, he lost even though he was the favorite. A few months ago, instability in the PASOK government made his dream come true, if only in part.

He may not be prime minister, but as deputy prime minister and finance minister he has unprecedented authority and a leading role. For Prime Minister George Papandreou, meanwhile, it is his best interest to leave his aspiring successor alone on the stage in these difficult times.

Venizelos casts himself as the politician who is ready to sacrifice his popularity in order to save Greece. He may even believe it, but the fact is that his very character does not allow him to stay out of the game, even though he knows that the game may well destroy his political career. The fact is, he cannot go against his nature. One example of this is the manner in which he tore into the parliamentary committee tasked with investigating 2009 budget data and the council of the now-defunct National Statistics Service.

We have also seen his nature coming across in numerous other statements; the deputy prime minister cannot resist employing his natural ingenuity and eloquence, with the result that he often becomes their victim. He is so full of himself that his self-confidence frequently comes across as pure arrogance. He thinks that he can achieve anything with rhetoric, even getting Greeks to swallow any bitter pill he prescribes for their salvation. When he meets with resistance, meanwhile, he flies into a rage and wags his finger at his naysayers: On the one hand he terrorizes politicians who disagree and on the other he threatens the people with doom and destruction.

His performance, however, is less than original. He is reading from the shock doctrine script of the late Milton Friedman, according to which you can immobilize a society by posing impossible dilemmas before it that only have one ultimate answer. It is the one-way street that effectively scraps political discourse.

When the blackmail tactic begins to get old, it is simply reworded and so, the ?memorandum or bankruptcy? dilemma became the ?midterm agreement or drachma? dilemma, and today we have seen a Venizelos-inspired version of the same thing in brand-new packaging: ?Shut up and pay up or Greece will become like Argentina.?