Message Discipline: We've Finally Got Some!

So I spent a lazy Monday yesterday listening to your standard range of oppo news radio online – y’know, UnionRadio, RCR, Radio Fe y Alegría. The stations are putting on lots of oppo candidates: I heard Antonio Ecarri, Tomás Guanipa, Juan Carlos Caldera, Álvaro Yánez and a few others. It seemed clear to me that everybody was talking from the same set of talking points, to boot:

  1. The vote is secret. Vote your conscience no matter who takes you to the polls.
  2. We’re going to the A.N. to exercise oversight (control). "Oversight" is not "sabotage". 
  3. Here’s how the absence of A.N. oversight has contributed to a serious problem in our local community.

In fact, listening to these candidates talk, it’s clear that hyperlocalism is one part of the strategy: while Chávez is off talking about Iran and the U.S. and China, we the oppo are talking about the pothole in front of your house. They’re really pushing these kinds of very local, very parochial themes and stressing that they want to be sent to the National Assembly to find problems facing the local community.

This isn’t about geopolitics, this is about the fact that the powerplant that makes the electricity you use broke down because nobody was exercising oversight over the government’s electric sector policies, about the fact that the water that comes out of your fawcet isn’t safe to drink because nobody is looking over your water utility’s shoulders, etc.

Selling "oversight" may not be the sexiest electoral offer out there, but it’s real and, from what I’ve been able to hear, it’s being done well. Most remarkably, it seems to be getting done consistently, with candidates all over the country working to connect the lack of oversight with the specific problems in their local communities.

It’s easy (and fun!) to gang up on the stuffed-shirt-heavy MUD. But we should be clear, the opposition has come an enormous way from the crazy, hypermaximalist days of 2002-2004 (and beyond). The kinds of abstract, taylored-to-the-middle-class discourses about "Freedom" and "castro-communism" and "el rrrrrrregimen" that dominated oppo discourses for so long (and did so much to solidify chavismo’s support among its base) have finally given way to something different: the politics of aspiration.

This, I think, is the key: connecting with people’s aspirations for a better, more secure, more prosperous life. Venezuela is full of children of poor parents who aspire to become parents of middle class children: the opposition’s finally started to center its discourse on the validation of that aspiration, on trying to embody a political vehicle for people to achieve it.

Will this work? It’s hard to know. The irony seems to be that the opposition finally got its message right at about the same time as the takeover of RCTV and the serial intimidation of the radio stations badly undermined its ability to get that message out. It’s easy to forget that normal voters outside the big cities inhabit an extremely different media universe than we do, that, as a reader of mine put it, "you have more access to oppo messaging sitting behind a computer in Montreal than hanging out on the streets of Guanare." 

So it may be that the message isn’t getting through at all. I take some heart, though, from the sense that they’ve finally gotten the message right.