Mr Political Cost

At times I can almost hear the secret adviser whispering in the prime minister’s ear: «PM, we cannot take this. The costs will be unbearable. The TV media and newspapers will lynch us.» The secret adviser, a government heavyweight with knowledge of what is being said outside the gates of the government headquarters, has in the past changed the minds of Andreas Papandreou, Constantine Mitsotakis and Costas Simitis on crucial issues. His motto is: «Nothing can really change in this country. After all, it’s the same everywhere you go.» He does not care about Greece’s place in the endless race of globalization and he wants no one’s opinion on the matter. He is happy with the status quo. He deems corruption actually suits many people: «It’s not so bad after all.» He sees politics as a zero-sum game. Any decision that could cost votes is ruled out. Every headline, every political gossip column is taken into account. The secret adviser lives in a world of state-dependent unionists and party cadres. It was he who talked Simitis out of closing down Olympic Airways. He convinced Karamanlis, shortly after he became prime minister, to spare the troubled air-carrier ahead of the Athens Olympics. It was he who persuaded Papandreou to withdraw his support for education reform. Most leaders fall for his word. But once they’re out, they feel nothing but resentment when they realize that were it not for him, they would go down as great leaders. «I wish I had turned a deaf ear back then and did this or that when I had the people behind me,» is often heard from the lips of retired premiers. The arguments are repetitive and dull, regardless of who is in power. If the adviser had a name, it would be Political Cost. If only we could lock him away until ballot time.