Administering powerlessness

Quico says: I thought I should weigh in on the developing net-spat over opposition party bashing. It’s a sin I’ve been guilty of too often in the past, but one I find increasingly difficult to defend.

The first point I think we need to grasp squarely is our own complete powerlessness.

That, in itself, is an anomaly: in normal democracies minorities retain a measure of political power. Normally, minority parties can block or slow legislation through parliamentary tactics. They can use their access to the press to shame governments into changing their positions. They can appeal to the courts to demand redress when they feel government actions violate the law.

In other words, they have options: things they can do to force the government to act differently than it would prefer to.

One important way in which chavismo is undemocratic is in denying the opposition any of those channels. Even before the (disastrous) 2005 oppo parliamentary election boycott, no less than seven reforms to the National Assembly’s internal rules had shorn the parliamentary minority of any power to affect legislative outcomes. The government’s pack-and-politicize judicial strategy has been extensively documented. And its obdurate, systematic refusal to change its behavior in any way in response to anything the opposition press publishes is now a central part of its self-image.

I think we need to look at our propensity to fly off the handle at the oppo parties within the context of their complete powerlessness. Take, for instance, this business about protesting the Enabling Law (which allows Chávez to legislate by decree on almost everything.) People are incandescently angry that the opposition hasn’t, well, opposed the enabling law more actively. But in the context of its complete lack of power, what would that entail, exactly?

Sure, the opposition parties could call for street protests against the enabling law. We would all go out in the streets. March. Chant. Show off our wit with guffaw-inducing placards. Then a spot of bailoterapia and take the metro back home. (We know the drill by now.)

Would that change anything? Of course not! The government is determined to rub our noses in our own powerlessness: any demonstration of public opposition is merely a cue for chavismo to harden its stance. After all the street antics are finished, Chávez would enact his Enabling Law decrees just as though none of it had happened.

You know that. I know that. The oppo party leaders know that. And it makes us angry.

Of course it makes us angry, that feeling of utter impotence as we face the unchecked power of a lunatic.

And how do we channel that anger? What do we do with it? Where do we direct it? Towards the opposition parties, for failing to do something they manifestly don’t have the power to do!

It’s a childish, self-defeating attitude. And it repeats itself again and again over a whole range of issues.

Again, I’ve been just as guilty of this as the next guy. When CNE refused to give out complete results for the Dec. 2nd Referendum, I railed mightily against the oppo parties’ silence over the issue. It still, deep down, makes me mad.

But when I think through what would almost certainly have happened if they had chosen to make the Dec. 2nd results issue a Cause Celèbre (CNE ignores them, full results are never announced anyway and they destroy their access to CNE while putting the extent of their powerlessness on full display once again,) I’m forced to concede that anger does not a political strategy make. (That, if nothing else, we should’ve learned by now.)

And, if I’m honest with myself, I have to acknowledge that my anger at the oppo parties boils down to my rage that there is literally nothing anybody can do to change a deeply abhorrent, entirely indefensible position.

None of this, of course, implies that oppo party leaders aren’t often short-sighted, thick, venal, ridiculous, callous and stupid. Many of them – not all – clearly are. But I don’t think that’s the real reason they get bashed so much. Cuz, lets face it: if they won a tactical skirmish now and again we wouldn’t be nearly so bothered by their general unsavoriness.

No, the real reason they get bashed is that we systematically take our anger at our own powerlessness out on them. We’ve turned them into punching bags in some bizarre internal psychodrama – pagapeos in a fight we’re really having with ourselves.

De pana que no la tienen fácil los partidos de oposición.