The problem with populism -on the left as well as on the right- is that it never provides a solution to problems. It's strength is that it always identifies a culprit for them: the capitalists, the migrants, the politicians, or all of them put together. The trick, evidently, works. By pointing a finger at a "culprit," you deflect people's attention from the real problems, while offering a "straight answer" -the kind of answer that no serious party can possibly give because of the numerous factors involved in decision making.
The problem is "straight answers" are never neutral. "Solutions" are always the wrong ones, for they exacerbate problems, rather than solve them.
George W. Bush had a catchy, with-us-or-against-us response on Iraq. The message was clear down to the last Nebraska voter, which is why the Democrats lost two consecutive elections. A serious politician would have had to explain the complexity of international politics, the delicate UN balance, relations with Europe and Muslim frustration.
It's what John Kerry tried to do but the average Kansas voter wanted a "straight answer." In the end, Bush came across as "decisive," while his rival was denounced as "small-minded, undecided and incomprehensible." Bush's "straight answer" won the vote and doomed the USA.
It all boils down to the "democratic paradox." The demand for more freedom brings more complexity in decision making. A monarch can more easily make decisions than a democratically elected government with checks and balances. Independent authorities, media and pressure groups, nongovernmental organizations, the EU all have complicated governance. The so-called deepening and widening of democracy has brought in more players and more complexity.
This is the Achilles' heel of the system. The more democratic it gets, the more complex it grows. But complexity also enhances the appeal of populism, which ends up taking a toll on the "unnecessary hassle" of the Constitution, institutions and civil rights. Just look at Guantanamo.
«Kathimerini» English Edition, 12.6.2009