The curious case of the missing panic

Juan Cristóbal says: As the government’s authoritarian noose tightens, and next year’s Legislative elections draw ever nearer with zero progress on a unity platform, it’s fair to ask: is it time to panic yet?

Panic is underrated. It can be just the thing to get you going. As the great Billie Jean King puts it, “pressure is a privilege.” But it can also shut you down. Deer, meet headlights.

Politicians who figure out how to turn their moments of panic into “the fierce urgency of now” are often the most successful. Frankly, in Venezuela, we could use some of that fierce urgency.

Surely, some opposition politicians are panicking, but none are panicking constructively. Come to think of it, it’s our leadership’s total inability to do constructive panic that’s been spinning me into, well…a panic.

That’s the first thing that crossed my mind when I read that the government is apparently considering bringing forward the Parliamentary elections currently scheduled for December 2010. According to El Nacional’s sources in Miraflores, the government is seriously pondering holding the elections as early as March. Some deputies have admitted they have discussed the issue, and you know it’s true when Darío Vivas says it ain’t.

A move like this would catch the opposition with their pants down, and it wouldn’t be the first time. All the talk about unity would have to give way to real results, and the shift would need to happen yesterday. A change in the schedule would dramatically compress the time available for selecting candidates and raising funds.

It shouldn’t have to be like this. Here we are in October, and the progress on choosing unity candidates can be measured in millimeters. The alarm has been sounding for months, but our guys can’t hear it.

We’ve been saying since at least February that the congressional elections are the central issue we face, that failure will seal our chances until at least 2018, that the work needs to begin right away. Nobody seems to understand this.

Leopoldo Lopez has brought up the idea of primaries, and I have enthusiastically boarded the bandwagon. But his failure to bring specifics to the table – in fact, his failure to even sit at the table – has all but doomed its chances. And while there has been much huffing and puffing about “reaching consensus” or “using opinion polls,” so far, these debates have the air of a carrito-por-puesto discussion instead of the desperate urgency of a firefighters’ huddle by the side of a blaze.

Tranquilo, chamo, we have all the time in the world, right?

Well, we don’t. People may not remember, but Manuel Rosales didn’t begin his Presidential campaign until the idea of primaries had fizzled (yes, we’ve been down this road before) and the World Cup had ended. In fact, the precise date of Rosales’ selection was August 9, 2006, less than three months before the election.

With so little time to pick a team, settle on a message, and campaign, is it any wonder we got our asses handed to us? That’s what “consensus” gets you – a weak candidate with an incoherent message selected way too late.

Regardless, the discussion of primaries vs. consensus vs. Pérez the Mouse deciding unity candidates would be completely beside the point if the schedule changed. The CNE throwing down the gauntlet should, in theory, force our politicians to zero in and focus on finding a solution, any solution, quickly.

Don’t count on it. Instead, our Scotch-soaked, 360°-haunting geniuses are busy worrying about the OAS, visiting hunger strikers, collaborating on fluff pieces and, generally, avoiding jail. But where are the politicians telling people the truth – that unless we start playing as a team now, not only will we lose the 2010 elections badly, we will also have sealed our fate for 2012?

Some of our politicians are feeling the panic and acting on it, but it’s not the good type of panic. Instead of running around like headless chickens or fleeing to Lima, they need to jujitsu that pressure into stamina. They need to do their job.