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Politics across the Atlantics

| Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Greece, like many European countries, is governed by a multiparty system revolving around the parliament. European elections can rival the Electoral College in complexity, but are often more frequent and result in greater swings in control than their American counterparts. This was evident when Syriza, a self-described radical left-wing party, took control of the Greek government a few short days ago. They are a newer political party, with little experience governing and even less with international diplomacy, but will be leading Greece in the face of some of its most important decisions since joining the European Union. Their primary message was to halt the austerity measures put in place for Greece to service their massive amount of debt. This is a radical break from the past and from the rest of Europe, where countries unable to pay their sovereign debts have had to implement strict austerity measures ­­— mandatory programs that cut spending and attempt to raise revenue — in order to pay back other European countries. The full repercussions of the election are not known yet, but could have major implications across Europe and the world.

In recent U.S. political news, Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush met in Utah, presumably to discuss their competing intentions to run for president in 2016. Both Romney— the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, former governor of Massachusetts and son of a former Massachusetts governor — and Bush — the former governor of Florida, brother to former US president George W. Bush and son of former US president George H.W. Bush — have publicly stated they are “seriously considering” a presidential bid. If either is successful in obtaining the Republican nomination, they will most likely face another known quantity from the Democrats — Hillary Clinton, the wife of former U.S. president Bill Clinton, former senator from New York and former Secretary of State. At the very least, Americans will recognize some of the names when they step into the voting booth in 2016.

One driver of Greece’s radical shift is the dire nature of the country’s current circumstance — within the month they may be unable to pay their debt or even remain a part of the Euro. By contrast, the United States has been recovering more rapidly from the recession by the month. Could this alone explain the difference in political actors? Perhaps. However, when the presidential campaign fell in the middle of the worst financial crash since the Great Depression, the country selected an “outsider” who came from one of two primary political parties, and whose policies have echoed the same priorities as his predecessors. President Obama’s 2008 victory is nothing like the Syriza seizing Greece after being only a marginal player until 2012.

The contrast between the familiar faces and policies of American politics and the rapid shifts seen in Greece just days ago is stark. A key difference between the two political systems is Greece’s reliance on multiple parties forming coalitions as opposed to the two-party system found in the United States. This, along with other factors, contributes to the pros and cons of each system. When it comes to these two systems, it means the ability to react radically to a popular movement versus the stability that comes with fairly consistent governing.

How should Americans view the difference between their governing and that of Europeans and Greeks? It is incredibly important to first know the difference exists. Other countries have broader discussions about their government than simply Republicans versus Democrats. This freedom comes with sacrifices (such as Italy averaging a new government every year since World War II), but provides an alternative to well worn narratives heard from America’s political parties. This may come as a relief to those tired of the apparent collusion from Republicans and manifest destiny of the Democrats. The benefits of the American system — stability, institutional knowledge, consistency, etc. — are incredible, and have contributed to the success of the nation. That being said, no operation improves without new inputs and information. At the very least, Americans need to know that they have more options than choosing from the same few last names every four years.


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