The most important election in the history of democracy was the 1860 Presidential contest here in the United States. Abraham Lincoln, Stephen Douglas and John C. Breckenridge squared off in a race that would decide the future of the country in a way that no election before or since ever has.
I like to think that Americans at that time knew the paths that lay ahead of them based on how that election would play out. With the election of Lincoln, they knew that the Southern states would secede--and that bloody civil war would be needed almost immediately to save the Union. The election of Douglas or Breckenridge would have led to the continuation of the unsustainable division of the country along the lines of slavery and free states--which would still eventually lead to a civil war that, thanks to increased mechanism, would have been even longer and bloodier. Not to mention more African-Americans being subjected to the horrors of slavery for more decades.
Those 1860 Americans decided that the time had come to finally settle the issue of slavery and the power of the Federal Government--elected Lincoln--and braced for the war that would tear the Nation and families apart. In hindsight, we think that the decision should have been easy--but I'm sure it wasn't for the people of that time.
Now, the people of Greece will have the chance to head to the polls next month with the fate of the European Union--and perhaps the worldwide economy--riding on their decision. In the greatest case of political punting since Pontius Pilate gave the people of Jerusalem the choice of setting Jesus or Barabas free, Greek President George Papandreou is putting the EU bailout plan for his bankrupt country up for a referendum. Approve the plan, and the Greek people accept 11-billion Euros in aid--with a caveat that they must greatly reduce the cost of their welfare state. Reject the plan and likely get kicked out of the Eurozone and sink under the unsustainable weight of the entitlement programs that got you into the mess to begin with.
I don't know what kind of campaign finance laws and political advertising rules they have in Greece--but I do know that if such a referendum was held here in the US--all of the TV networks could just cancel their programming for the month leaing up to the election, because every group that suckles at the teat of the Federal Government would be running continuous ads bombarding the electorate to save their bacon.
The Greek people have to know the paths that lie ahead of them as they head into this referendum. It will be interesting to see if they, like our Antebellum American ancestors, choose to address their crisis right away--or decide to keep pushing it off into the future--when it might be too late.