A message from the Centre–Left

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1. Looking for the magic word…

In a scientific fiction parody with the title "The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Galaxy" written by Douglas Adams, a huge computer called "Deep thought" is trying to find a single answer for all the fundamental questions of life. It is supplied with the history of humanity, and after various complex calculations and combinations “Deep thought” announces to the experts that the answer to every question about life, galaxy and in general to everything is 42. The "Deep thought" of the Centre–Left is still at that stage of calculations. It is currently looking for a "magic word" to express its view of the complex political and social reality. In other words, it is looking for something like the memorable "Change" or even "Modernization"; slogans which it is said to have won past elections.

But is this true? First of all, Change might have caused mass enthusiasm to the public but it was not a slogan inspired only by PASOK. In 1981 it has been also pronounced by another party, named KODISO although PASOK won the elections. Modernization on the other hand, a slogan proclaimed by the enlightened left, never caused mass enthusiasm. On the contrary, it has been strongly ridiculed but at the same time fully justified by Costas Simitis during the eight-year period of his governance.

Secondly, there is a recent "magic world" which is said to have won elections but no one seems to remember it today: Political change, a slogan by New Democracy which was actually a catchy motto for TV spots without offering a way out to any big dilemmas.

Thirdly, Change and Modernization expressed only one pole of the real cleavages that existed in the greek society. In the aftermath of the civil war the Right identified with the West and the Left with Jamahiria. Both Change and Modernization were considered to be a key in dilemmas which were present at that time. Whereas, today the only dilemma is that between liberalism and state interventionism (which many confuse with socialism). However, if we take into account both the ideologicial confusion of the Right and the historical syndromes of the Centre-Left towards the Left, we should not probably expect such a magic word. The basic problem today is that apart form the one mentioned above, Greek society does not face big dillemas any more. There are of course enormous difficulties which cannot be dealt with such a slogan.  But if, despite of all these, some still believe that the main problem of the Left is the nonexistence of such a magic word then Douglas Adams points the way to them: 42, the answer to every problem about society, ecology and politics...


2. The democratic paradox

During the presidential elections of 1952 an elated lady said to the democratic candidate Adlai Stevenson "Mr. Stevenson, I am sure that every thinking person will vote for you." "This is not enough, Madam" the clear-sighted politician replied. And he added, "We need the majority to govern".

Adlai Stevenson, however, in spite of his clear-sightness and oratorical skills, lost the elections by the military Dwight "Ike" Eisenhower. The same has happened with two modern politicians: Al Gore and John F. Kerry, who both lost by George W. Bush. Also, it is for the same reason, to go a bit further, that the Annan plan and the European Constitution were rejected.

On all the above cases the choice is between two conflicting proposals: an analytical, complicated one vs. a vague, simplistic proposal. Let’s take for instance the case of terrorism. When the choice is between the doctrine “with us or against us”, on the one hand and a proposal with references to the sensitivities of the peoples of Europe, the regulatory role of the United Nations, the difficult situation in the Arab World etc it is then reasonable that George Bush will thrive. When the voter has to choose between a detailed constitution and the “Polish plumber” then fears will prevail. Lastly, when the Cyprian voter is in confronted with a plan full of deadlines and clauses, and the dilemma "state or society" as it was put by Tassos Papadopoulos then 75% will vote for him.

We use to say that complicated problems call for equally complicated solutions. However, we often forget that these solutions are quite unapproachable to the average voter. It is distinctive that all complicated thoughts in Costas Simitis’s book remained almost unnoticed as most focused on the political gossips during the eight - years period of governance. Let’s take for example the problem of corruption. When the common perception is that five pimps are the only responsible, how can we expect that any complete propositions made by PASOK in order to deal with corruption will be taken seriously?

The democratic paradox therefore refers to the communication deficit of the Centre – Left.  Just like democracy which the more it deepens the more complex the decision making process becomes, the Centre - Left has to shape its message so that it will not be lost. This is even more vital in Greece not only because TV has the prevalent role in every political discussion but also because important counterweights, present in other western societies, such as a strong press, civil society, think tanks etc are absent…

We used to say that it was not New Democracy, which won elections, but PASOK, which lost.  But this is not exactly the case. Populism makes it easier to win elections, but it does not allow governing. For this reason it is more likely for New Democracy to lose than for PASOK to win…

Published in "Metarrythmisi" magazine, issue Febr-March 2006