The dangers of grandstanding

Our politicians refuse to understand how grave a mistake it is to grandstand with over-the-top, insubstantial statements and commitments.

Former Prime Minister George Papandreou paid a hefty price for saying, ?The money?s there,? before he was elected, something that he had no reason to do given that his opponent was telling the ?- admittedly belated ?- truth about the state of the country?s finances.

To this day, Premier Antonis Samaras is continuing to pay for his staunch anti-memorandum stance when he was in the opposition and while his predictions about the recession were true, he was more antagonistic than the circumstances required.

Nevertheless, politicians continue to make the same mistake. What, for example, was the point of the proclamation made by the three parties of the coalition government after the elections in which they set all these so-called red lines? It was a self-destructive move that has backed Democratic Left leader Fotis Kouvelis, as well as the government itself, into a corner today. All three parties knew how little wiggle room Athens had in negotiations with its creditors when they made the proclamation, which is now fodder for the opposition.

Kouvelis insists on making more noise than is necessary. The dramatic tone of his statements after every meeting between the leaders of the three parties leaves little room for compromise, or at least for compromises that do not dent his credibility.

The problem is that drawing any kind of line in a crisis is a very tricky business. This particular crisis is unfair on the politicians of Europe?s south because they have to choose between saying yes to their creditors or being left without enough money to pay salaries and pensions. It is unfair, almost inhuman, but that?s just how it is. The biggest challenge in Europe today is to achieve fiscal adjustment without harming the soul of the democratic system, and in this case our politicians stand few chances. But they are not helping themselves either. They need to understand that they must measure their words more carefully.

The media, meanwhile, are playing their own part in creating a climate that compels politicians to make this kind of mistake, by banking on rabid disagreements between politicians and the precise kind of hyperbole that we need much less of. History has taught us that politicians driven to ostentatious displays by their passion, peer pressure and the media have a hard time returning to a less sentimental demeanor.

This is something that SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras needs to be wary of because as he becomes more and more outspoken, the harder it will be to come back down to earth. And at what cost to himself and, of course, to the country?

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