Papandreou Is Not the “Greek Barack Obama”

In his recent story, titled “ Obama’s Partner in Athens“, the respectful Brookings Institution’s managing director, Mr. William J. Antholis tried — among other things — to persuade us that George Papandreou is probably the “Barack Obama of Greece”. I would definitely say, “no, he is not”. Although the two leaders’ political interests are crossing each other at this current moment in terms of preventing a new global financial crisis, caused potentially by a devastating Greek default, the prime minister of Greece and the American president, compared to each other, have no resemblances except that both were born in US and speak American-English as their native language. But let’s be more specific.

As Mr. Antholis writes in his article, “Obama and Papandreou were both elected on a mandate of hope”. And this is true. What Mr. Antholis does not mention in his article is the essential difference in the context and the meaning of the hope that the two leaders promised to their people. Unlike President Obama, the “hope” Papandreou gave to his voters before the elections of 2009 was an illusion and lacked political vision. To put it bluntly, his hope was an unambiguous deception of the Greek people since Papandreou was not telling the truth. Before his election, he was lying about the Greek economy not being at risk, and about there being enough money to maintain the huge public sector’s operation with no new taxes, no wages cuts and no privatizations of public assets. He promised everything to everyone, having one single goal: To gain power while in reality being aware of the bad prospects of his country’s economy.

Thus, Papandreou’s “hope”, has now been transformed into a “nightmare” for the Greek people who feel justifiably betrayed by their elected government’s policy. The Greek prime minister violated unprecedentedly an unwritten rule that says “its better for a politician to be useful to his people, rather than pleasant”. Οn the contrary, he preferred to be pleasant to his voters rather than sincere to himself by showing responsibility as a leader. Barack Obama articulated before his election a transparent and detailed plan of preventing the American economy’s further derailment and restoring its growth. Unlike him, the Greek Prime Minister made successful efforts to hide under the carpet the dramatic problems of his country’s economy during the electoral period. Telling Greeks the whole painful truth about the Greek economy’s huge debt and fiscal deficits, and letting them know earlier about the harsh decisions that should had been taken, was obviously not a secure choice for Mr. Papandreou for ensuring his election. This kind of political behavior is translated as populism rather than “hope” to his voters.

But even now, while both leaders are struggling against the hindrances for their economies’ recovery, the Greek Prime Minister has not learned enough from the American president’s visionary rhetoric used to give his people a persuasive and optimistic perspective about the future of their country and of their life. American people know that there will be a time when their economy gets out of the tunnel brought about by the recession and the high unemployment rates. Americans were given a vision by their own leader that Greeks have not yet seen.

At the same article, the Brookings Institution points out that both of them have proved an “initial political courage”. This would be right if Papandreou had actually implemented these hard structural reforms during the last one and half year of his governance, which are indispensable for contracting the prodigal public sector and confronting effectively the expanded tax evasion in his country. Instead of these crucial reforms, Papandreou’s policy tries to reduce the budgetary deficit by persisting in the same failed austerity measures’ recipe of increasing the taxes even more, reducing people’s incomes and strangling the economic growth. And all this because his government seems to be incapable of putting into effect the fundamental changes that the country needs. This is not indicative of the “political courage” of him as the Brookings Institution’s article claims, but it is a result of his political ineffectiveness which Greek people are now paying for. In the case of Greece the “courage” is coming from the people and not their government.

Besides these, there is another one main difference between the two leaders. Barack Obama is still enjoying the support of the majority of his voters and despite the increased rate of his policy’s disapproval, he is likely to gain a second term at the next presidential elections. In Greece, Papandreou has lost all confidence by the overwhelming majority of the electorate. Many political analysts in the country believe that Papandreou has lost the public legitimation to continue governing since his political decision opposes the commitments he had undertaken before getting the power.

In any case, I believe that comparing two leaders — as Brookings Institute has done in this article, and examining their leadership under very disparate political circumstances, social conditions and economic situations, is not a very good and very reliable decision. However, the Institute explains correctly in the same article why Obama and Papandreou need each other’s support and for what reasons they are sharing common political priorities on deterring the Greek economy’s default. But, unlike US, the current problem in Greece is mostly the lack of political leadership. Some in the country consider that Papandreou’s imitating the American President’s style of rolled up sleeves, might make the Greek people believe that they have found the “Greek Barack Obama”. Unfortunately, they have not…

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