The opposition leadership, as we’ve known it, has failed. On this, we’re all more or less agreed. It’s failed on so many levels it’s hard to know where to start. But, to my mind, the most basic failures have been tactical.
Time and again, opposition leaders have centered political debate on issues that play to Chavez’s advantage. I’ve been writing a lot about the way focusing on CNE works to demobilize the opposition’s own base.
But more fundamental still has been our fixation on Chavez the man. It baffles us, angers us, dismays us and infuriates us, but most Venezuelans kinda like Chavez. A good 30% idolize him, another 40% have mixed feelings about him, but only a relatively small minority positively detest him like traditional oppo leaderships do. In poll after poll, Chavez personally gets much higher marks than “the government”, “the cabinet”, or anything else associated with Chavez.
How might a tactically savvy opposition respond to this polling trend? You’d think it would try to refocus debate away from Chavez the man and towards his government’s incompetence. But this hasn’t happened. Oppo leaders’ visceral horror at his caudillismo and autocratic zeal prevents is. They stubbornly keep Chavez personally at the center of debate. With remarkable singleness of purpose, they work to keep debate centered on the one aspect of Chavismo that’s most popular with the electorate at large.
Not surprisingly, it hasn’t exactly worked. So maybe it’s worth trying something different. Maybe the smart way to go about this is to put together an anti-government discourse that scrupulously avoids even mentioning Chavez.