Not Rosales, pleaaaase!

From the road, Quico says: I don’t know that much about Manuel Rosales – in itself a bad sign, given what a political junkie I am – but here it goes all the same: I think the guy is hopeless as a candidate, worse even than Borges.

Here’s why: There’s one message that comes through loud and clear in all the public opinion research that’s been done over the last few years: no volveran – they shall not return – is one chavista slogan that has legs. It’s the one thing that chavistas and NiNis concur on, this deep seated disgust with the pre-Chavez political system. But it’s a message Rosales seems not to get at all.

By all accounts, Rosales is a retread adeco. His discursive style is as much a throw-back to 70s style AD populism as is his political organization. Isn’t it fair to presume that if the guy looks like an adeco, sounds like an adeco, smells like an adeco and talks like an adeco, voters will conclude he’s an adeco?

His campaign launch line about Chavez’s misiones being basically the same as the social programs of the pre-Chavez era underlines the basic problem with his whole approach: while, substantively, he may be right, the line catastrophically fails to realize the way Chavez’s discourse of radical popular empowerment have changed the rules of the political game. As everyone knows, el pais cambio, …everyone, that is, except for Manuel Rosales.

The key political fact is that even if the misiones are just souped-up social programs, they don’t feel that way to their recipients. That makes all the difference, because in politics perceptions are realities. Chavismo has moved the goal-posts of Venezuelan politics not just by mobilizing oil resources for the poor, but by going all out to ensure that the poor feel that state resources are mobilized on their behalf. I just don’t see how a politico who doesn’t understand that has a chance in December.

People tell pollsters again and again that they want an alternative to chavismo that is, at the same time, an alternative to the legacy of puntofijismo. Rosales seems very far from being channelling that desire. As a candidate, I can’t see how he could reach out beyond the traditional hardcore anti-chavez vote and win over the broad, politically homeless center that’s so clearly the key to mounting a credible challenge in December. To say nothing of winning over wavering transactional chavistas.

So, we’d be stuck with the same 40% that keeps voting against Chavez – and that’s a best case scenario, because we know many of them will abstain on principle.

This is not what the opposition needs. What the opposition needs is a candidate able to turn this race upside down, one able to innovate discursively, to mount an anti-Chavez discourse that is clearly, patently distinct from the pre-Chavez political tradition, that has a chance to make a serious bid for NiNi and wavering transactionals’ votes. I don’t think I need to spell this one out any further…