Chris Matthews is stuck in the 1970s, it seems, and I'm not talking about his pop culture references.
Talking with CNBC's Jim Cramer on the May 6 "Hardball" about the Greek fiscal crisis, everyone's favorite MSNBCer blamed "right-wing" dictators from the Cold War era for financial troubles in Greece, Portugal, and Spain [MP3 audio available here]:
I'm a political guy, you're a money guy. Let's crosswalk this thing. It seems to me that you and I grew up with the fact there were dictatorships in Europe. They were in the Iberian peninsula and in Greece. You had Franco, who overstayed the Second World War a bit, by about two generations. You had Salazar in Portugal, and of course you had the Greek colonels.
The right-wing governments in Europe seem to be the ones that are most precarious right now: Greece, Portugal, Spain.
What's the connection? Is this a complete coincidence, or is it old-line right-wing politics that never quite stabilized into serious social democratic countries? What happened?
The only trouble is that Spain, Portugal, and Greece are currently governed by left-wing socialist governments, not "right-wing" dictators or military regimes. What's more, the Socialists trounced the center-right in the most recent Greek elections in October 2009 in part because the conservatives were politically unpopular for pushing for an austerity package aimed at getting the country's fiscal house in order. From a New York Times article at the time:
In conceding defeat, Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis said he had failed to persuade Greeks to accept the two years of austerity measures he had called for to steer the country out of its economic crisis. “The voters did not approve of this policy. It was their choice, and I respect it,” he said.
Mr. Karamanlis also stepped down as leader of the New Democracy Party, which suffered its worst performance since the restoration of Greek democracy in 1974 after years of military dictatorship. He said he would call a party congress to elect a new leader within a month.
Mr. Karamanlis, 53, called early elections last month, two years into a mandate dogged by corruption scandals and economic crisis, aiming to win a fresh mandate and stave off labor unrest. He had called for a freeze in public-sector wages to fight rising debt and unemployment, but he had difficulty pushing through important economic and structural reforms because he governed with a one-vote margin in Parliament.
Mr. Papandreou, 57, instead favored increased spending, including a $4.5 billion stimulus package to revive the Greek economy though infrastructure projects and environmentally sustainable development, while cracking down on tax evasion. Experts estimate that Greece loses $17.5 billion annually in unpaid income taxes and $13 billion in unpaid payroll taxes.
The victory by the Socialists here was a rare event for Europe, where the left has been losing ground and has often been unable to capitalize on the financial crisis for its own political gain.
But many Greek voters appeared to be voting against Mr. Karamanlis as much as for the Socialists. After two decades of Socialist rule, Mr. Karamanlis was elected in 2004 promising to restore faith in government.
For his part, Cramer failed to correct Matthews, agreeing with Matthews that:
You have a currency [the euro] that's made up of [countries run by] profligate right-wingers[and] non-profligate, actually prudent somewhat left-wingers. I'm talking about Germany. Germany is the rock bed here.
Germany is governed by a center-right coalition led by conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel.