By Alexander Campbell
Special to The Cheap Seats
I know how he thought it would play out.
Alexis Tsipras, Greece’s recently elected anti-austerity Prime Minister thought he would call Europe’s bluff. He thought that, having been elected on what he termed an “anti-austerity” platform, that when Europe pushed him for more cuts for more bailout money, he’d have leverage to push back.
Greece defaulted before a deal could be reached. Banks closed. Greek credit was frozen.
Tsipras told his countrymen that the hardship they were going through was the fault of the “troika” – a group made up of the European Union, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund – and that they could fight austerity by voting “No”.
The reality is, the second the banks closed, the “No” side had won.
That having been said, what Tsipras did while campaigning in the referendum was an act of political mythology that would have put Hercules to shame.
Fighting European imposed spending cuts is a platform that is very popular among Greeks. At the same time, staying in the Euro enjoyed a similar level of popularity. So, Tsipras promised the Greek people that they could reject the European Union’s terms but still stay in the Euro. He was told, in no uncertain terms by European leaders prior to the vote that this wouldn’t be the case.
They rejected the European Union’s terms anway, Tsipras never told them that last part.
Now, the European Union has presented Tsipras with a package far more harsh than the one Greeks rejected only a week ago.
And that’s because, ultimately, Tsipras had no leverage and he knew it. Greece accounts for less than 2 percent of the European economy and Tsipras was the only politician in Europe that was accountable to Greek voters. Ultimately, the Greek referendum question could have been asking whether Greeks wanted to accept the terms of the Starfleet Federation for all it meant to Brussels and Strasbourg.
And Tsipras knew that, too.
He waged a referendum on a blatant political lie – that Greeks didn’t have to pick between austerity measures and Europe. He did so knowing that it was a lie when he started doing it. He did so hoping that Europe would blink, knowing that they had more leverage over him than he ever did over them.
The European Union’s list of demands to Greece for further bailout money isn’t just a “poison pill”, it’s a poison pharmacy. If the Greeks accept further austerity measures, Alex Tsipras will become a political punchline. A modern Icarus, still unwilling to accept that his wings were made of wax all along.
If Greeks, rightly, refuse to accept such a blatant usurping of their sovereignty by Europe, Tsipras will still have to resign for having peddled such a blatant falsehood all along.
But the Tale of Tsipras should be a warning to all politicians everywhere. Stop telling voters that they can have everything they want and never have to pay for it.
If you want a better subway system in Toronto, either Toronto taxpayers or users of the TTC will end up paying for it.
If you want a new rink in Belleville, eventually Belleville taxpayers will have to pay in order to have one.
Politicians who peddle magic beans, the way Alex Tsipras did rightfully deserve our scorn for having lacked the necessary courage to deal honestly with the public.
Alex Tsipras likely hoped he would end up a martyr to anti-austerity politics.
Instead, he will end up a martyr of a different kind. He will become the Patron Saint of Magic Bean Peddlers and hopefully bring an end to the politics of terminal dishonesty.
Senator Alexander Campbell was campaign manager for Sir John A. Macdonald and the sixth lieutenant governor of Ontario. The actual author has asked that his name not be made public at this time and has chosen Alexander Campbell as a pseudonym in part to recognize Sir John’s 200th birthday