ATHENS – Before he became a disenchanted Democrat and reformed racist, and as he ran for President in 1968 on the American Independent Ticket, firebrand Alabama Governor George Wallace famously spat: “There’s not a dime’s worth of difference between the Republicans and Democrats.” He could have said the same about Greece’s Anti-Socialist PASOK party and its bitter rival New Democracy Conservatives, whose ideological differences disappear when it comes to the question of power.
They have taken turns ruining Greece and using it as a personal ATM for their parties over the last 35 years, lying, stealing, cheating, and driving the country to economic ruin, and are poised to do so again after elections are held, late in April or sometime in May, to replace the temporary hybrid government they reluctantly share, overseen by former European Central Bank Vice-President Lucas Papademos.
It will be a battle between New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras, and current Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos, who is running unopposed to take over leadership of PASOK on March 18 from its failed leader, former Prime Minister George Papandreou. Samaras, a graduate of the elite Amherst College in Massachusetts, is the odds-on favorite to win, although European officials said New Democracy, under former Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, oversaw a cover-up of Greece’s failed economy just before losing the elections in 2009 to Papandreou. It didn’t take long for Papandreou to betray the principles of Socialism and the PASOK party his featherbedding father Andreas Papandreou founded in 1981. It was Andreas, of course, who promptly used his position as Prime Minister to hire just about every Greek who would vote for him in return, setting in motion the inevitable destruction of the country’s economy.
Little Georgie, a roommate of Samaras’ at Amherst, is finally stepping down as PASOK leader, four months after resigning as Premier after 18 months of protests, riots and strikes against the austerity measures he imposed on orders of international lenders providing rescue loans to keep Greece from defaulting. He’s turning over a wrecked party that has fallen from 44 percent in support to 13 percent to Venizelos, whose gargantuan ego is surpassed only by his ambition and Deputy Prime Minister Theodoros Pangalos’ appetite. And Venizelos, who deems himself of sharp intellect, doesn’t suffer fools gladly, which must make it hard for him to live with himself even though he loves the arrogance of power. What a match-up: Snooty Samaras has his nose so high in the air it’s difficult for him to keep looking down on people, and it will be hard for them to joust on high horses and take the moral high ground in the political swamps where they live.
Here’s the problem for Greeks, who are lining up to be a hot lunch and will deserve what they get and forfeit any right to protest when they re-elect the same tired, failed politicians if New Democracy wins as expected, and PASOK finishes second: both parties are committed to continuing the austerity measures Greeks say have ruined their lives. If so, why are they ready to hire the hangmen again?
Samaras bitterly opposed pay cuts, tax hikes, slashed pensions and the planned firing of 150,000 unneeded public workers who were dragging down the country’s economy when Papandreou was in power. But just the smell of the throne lured Samaras into accepting a coalition government. He spun around like a weathervane and promptly backed the austerity measures, couching his change-of-face-and-heart with the excuse this time it was attached to a second bailout of $172 billion from the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB) Troika that allowed a write down in the country’s debt of $134 billion.
But, sensing victory, he says now he will oppose the austerity he supported before he opposed it, just the kind of character you want to lead Greece. What’s the alternative? Venizelos, who has doubled income and property taxes, and taken to taxing the poor while virtually ignoring tax evaders costing the country more than $60 billion, correctly understands that voters are brainwashed lemmings who will push the button for him even if it’s hooked up to a car battery.
Venizelos says he believes voters will forgive him and PASOK for creating 21 percent unemployment, forcing the closing of 111,000 businesses, leaving 500,000 people without income and letting the rich and politicians use Greece as a playground. He’s right, although there’s apparently one person in the party whose brain is still functioning, a pensioner on crutches who threw yogurt at him, undoubtedly Greek yogurt which is produced by cartels that collude with government support.
Venizelos wouldn’t know egg on his face from yogurt and said, “Our goal is victory, PASOK as the first party, upsetting the polls.” He said his party had managed the greatest crisis in Greece since its civil war, forgetting it helped create it, along with New Democracy. If the two parties together win enough seats in the 300-member Parliament they can form another coalition of McCoys and Hatfields who, like the Mafia, will deal with their worst enemies if it’s profitable, because politics is a self-preservation society. They even talked about running together at one point, but Samaras now says he’s having none of that and wants Greeks to give him an absolute majority, and if they do so it will prove people get the government they deserve.
Samaras’ brilliant agenda is known only to himself, like former U.S. President Richard Nixon’s secret plan to end the Vietnam War, because the New Democracy leader hasn’t given any details of how he wants to return Greece to growth and must have missed the news from EU officials that Greece will need more austerity and $15 billion in additional spending cuts in 2013-14, which would make his tenure end the same way as Papandreou’s. During his campaign launching speech, which was as exciting as watching paint dry, Samaras, who needs a charisma injection, said his platform included revoking the citizenship of Second Generation Greeks.
That put him dangerously close to the cuckoos of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn types and the only slightly less wacko LAOS far Right-Wing party whose leader briefly sat with him in the coalition government before finally figuring out that austerity wasn’t working and neither was the profligate spending that created a need for it and walked out, which is what everyone should do when the election is held because there’s not a drachma’s worth of difference between Samaras and Venizelos.