Mixed message

In politics there is no magic recipe. Politicians must respond to social change and be themselves, or at least appear to be. Even the less experienced can see through a politician who is not comfortable with what he is saying. Take George Papandreou: The dynastic factor did not eclipse his daring agenda: rapprochement with Turkey, liberalization of soft drugs, the OK to private universities. That was what attracted those who welcomed his rise at the helm of the party. Sure, another section of PASOK voters were more interested in name recognition given that he was the son of Andreas Papandreou. Thirty days into his pre-election campaign in 2004 came the leaflets controversy. What happened? In PR parlance it’s known as a mixed message. Papandreou made a sudden U-turn, shifting from postmodern politics to 1980s-style populism. The explanation was simple: Papandreou had lost confidence in his own spin-meisters and resorted to Costas Laliotis, who only knows the polarization game. The elections were over but the mixed message did not become any clearer. The champion of private universities ended up bargaining with in-party rivals over Article 16 of the Constitution. The man who wanted to «change everything» sounds more like an old-style unionist. His interests in inclusive democracy and the Internet sound like extracurricular activities. So who is Papandreou? He’s like a gladiator stepping into that same arena where his father slashed the legendary enemies. Some people urge him to «be like Andreas» while others say he should «act like Simitis.» A minority urge him to be himself. So far he resembles none of these. Polarization is not his forte and his opposition tactics cannot be compared to his father’s. And, sure, he is not himself. Time will tell if he will find himself again.