No vetting allowed

I want you on your best behaviour now...

The other night, the opposition’s presidential candidates held a debate.

While the format literally did not leave much room for debate, we all came away thinking it was a success. The candidates were reasonably polished and highly respectful of each other. The tone was civilized and mature, and their focus was solely on the main concerns of voters.

This is a problem.

We’ve griped before about the unity fetish, the conventional wisdom among opposition voters that any discord within our ranks is bad. We’ve discussed how this helps the front runner, hurts the wannabes, and leaves us all a bit bored.

But there’s something deeper at play here. A velvet-gloved primary means our candidate will not be properly vetted next year.

Think back to the US in 2008. That year, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton engaged in a bloody, brutal, long, expensive, no-holds-barred primary fight. In this epic battle, no stone was left unturned, no mud was left unhurled. In the end, the loser embraced the winner, who won the general and made her foreign minister.

The bruising primary fight made Barack Obama a better candidate for the general election. Anything the Republicans could do to him had already been thrown at him by Camp Hillary. The fact that he was still standing showed he could survive those attacks.

Fast forward to March 2012.

The general election campaign begins, and chavismo uncovers every rock, scouring the candidate’s past for anything, anything they can get their hands on.

Will we be assured that candidate Henrique Capriles will have the fortitude of character, the communicational skills, and the wherewithal to withstand the onslaught? What skeletons does candidate Pablo Pérez have in his closet? What details have we not uncovered about candidate Leopoldo López’s tenure as Chacao mayor?

These are the things a primary campaign is for. You test the candidates, you flesh things out, and you see who is left standing. You can tell that the process is working when only the fittest survives.

But the unity fetish makes this Darwinian process impossible. Instead, what we have is a cartel: a group of competitors who refuse to compete.

Imagine what Marialejandra López would think if Pablo Pérez started raising questions about Henrique Capriles’ rumored past addictions. How apoplectic would Teodoro Petkoff get if serious questions were raised about Pablo Pérez’s alleged drinking habits? And what would Leopoldistas say if, all of the sudden, someone in the MUD started asking serious questions about the reasons he was barred from holding public office?

You can be sure candidate Chávez will raise these issues and more. We’ll eventually find out how the candidate respond to them.

But by then, it may be too late.

(Quico’s furious rebuttal is in the first comment.)