Face-off: what a novel concept!

We’re not quite here…yet.

I’m officially petitioning for a moratorium on every sort of “we’re so screwed because it’s an uneven playing field” speak. All this fatalistic chatter is old and tired, and distracts us from focusing on the fun stuff that will make this election different. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that, from a strictly candidate-centric perspective, the playing field is as even as it’s ever been.

For the past 13 years, every Venezuelan presidential race has been run against an incumbent who set the bar for undisputed campaigning prowess. Chávez on the stump was an intimidating behemoth, a master lesson on how the game is played. I doubt that any strategy session for any of Chavez’s challengers ever even bothered to run the whole “let’s-identify-his strengths-and-weaknesses-and-use-those-in-our-favor” approach. The opposition never shied away from attacking issues like law and order, the economy, and foreign policy, but it always struggled with the formidable task of checking Chávez.

That asymmetry is gone. Part of what’s fun about this Capriles/Maduro duel is that finally a real two-way dynamic is at play, where both candidates target and react to each other’s shortcomings as they chase swinging votes. Hell, they even acknowledge each other as worthy adversaries. That’s a first.

Chávez looked down on presidential races from his Olympian heights, immune to opposition attempts to discredit him. The only time he recognized the mere existence of his contenders was to put them down, and even then, candidates were never referred to by name. Not once did he entertain the preposterous idea of debating, for that would mean conceding putting himself on the same plane as his opponents, always out of the question. Águila no caza mosca. I ain’t lowering myself to your level.

Well, this weekend, Maduro did. Or, rather, he never was on another level to begin with.

In terms of style, his first “campaign” address, a weird hybrid of celebrating Chavez’ memory, running a Misiones roll-call, and self-congratulation over the UN’s 2013  Human Develpoment Index report, was a window into his conscious efforts to transition from yes-man to showman, from bureaucrat to executive, from employee to boss. He definitely took most of the basics from the Chávez 101 playbook. He chided a Minister for flubbing the broadcast, he made policy decisions on TV, interrupted the UN rep’s presentation to offer a personal anecdote, read a poem, and sporadically engaged in jolly call-and-response routines with the seated crowd.

But Maduro also felt the need to defend himself not once, but twice, from petty rumors. At one point, he devoted a good five minutes of cadena time to squash speculation that he had been using a teleprompter, and later even showed a slow-motion clip zooming in on Maria Gabriela Chávez hugging him, forensic proof that she never, in fact, dissed him during the funeral last Friday (we learned the hug lasted three seconds).

If I were his coach, I would give him an A for effort in Chávez 101, and a D+ in Politics 101. I need only reference the “I am not a crook” Nixon example to illustrate that defensiveness, in campaigning, is synonymous with self-incrimination (Quick: don’t think of an elephant!).

Capriles, on the other hand, held one of his first mass rallies in Mérida, an outdoor 20-minute speech delivered to a cheering crowd at nightfall. He was kind of doing the rockstar thing, and his fans were loving it. His message centered on unity of the Venezuelan people and on his crusade to champion truth over lies, concern over corruption. Peppered throughout were the new catchphrases, Nicolás, tú eres el problema, and the deliciously taunting Yo sé que tú me estás viendo, Nicolás.

At this point it’s all rhetoric. It works because people can sense that Chávez, in his time, wouldn’t have even bothered tuning in, but probably Maduro feels threatened enough to do so. If anything, it’s a shrewd way of raising the opposition’s self-esteem. Played well, it could built into a total shift in paradigm.

The real kicker, though, was Capriles’ warning that, given Maduro’s recent heartless devaluation, people should be wary of further attempts to cut social programs in the name of economic recovery, i.e., the Misiones. That’s right, he went there. “If you let my opponent win, he might take away your Misiones. They were never his to begin with.”

There’s been a dramatic shift in tone (perceived or real) when the opposition’s candidate is now using the government’s mother-of-all-arguments to demonize the new guard.

We’re just at the beginning of what will surely be an exhausting, month-long clash of ideas, values, and personal styles, run against the backdrop of Chávez’ enormous, contested legacy. The race will be stalked by the realization that Chávez’s shoes are just impossible for anyone to fill, and that opens up the arena for candidates to chose their own narratives, and to rely on their own strengths. That’s what gets people excited about elections.

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  1. The hopes and dreams of mice and men (some women) whose ‘Mission Impossible’ will never be understood by them no matter how they spin it before or after they lose again.

    You are not facing a man, you are facing a movement.One that has a class hatred of all you were, are and have become. That stretches back decades and where No Volverán is the watch word, no matter how you think the elections will turn out. You have a chance but its in hell.

    The grassroots and militants of the Bolivarian revolution who have saved it some 4 times or more. You will not return! And the revolution will be completed sooner than you or the bureaucracy thinks.

    Rojo Rojito

    Do like the title and the writer does have a flare. Face Off, you might need a hockey stick though.

      • “As a final factor I must, in all modesty, list my own person: irreplaceable. Neither a military nor a civilian personality could take my place. Attempts on my life may be repeated….The fate of the Revolution rests solely on my shoulders.”

        Who said that?

    • “You are not facing a man, you are facing a movement.One that has a class hatred of all you were, are and have become.”

      what happened, Cort? wasn’t the Bolivarian ona a revolution of love? love for all mankind, just like Jesus had?

    • Cort : Everything you say here is boringly predictable , you can package hogwash a 100 different ways and its still hogwash !! However the thing that struck me here is your reference to the ´movement´feeding on hatred , decades of class hatred , I take exception on any movement which fuels itself on hatred , hatred is an invigorating but demeaning and obscene emotion , I would have expected that you had said that it feeds itself on hope , the hope of its members for a better life , Its dissapointing that you prefer hatred to hope as a motivator of political activity. The other exception is to your saing that this hatred is decades old , you seem to not have lived in Venezuela ever , personally I mixed my whole life on a regular basis with people of all classes and the mood was always tipically venezuelan amaible , humour laden , even now when you mix different venezuelans in a group the mood is personally friendly , laid back , unassuming helpful unless you are in a political act of some kind . The hatred does exist now but its been a contrived and enticed hatred , the hatred which a deeply narcicistic personality needed to foster to feel mighty and full of aggressive energy towards those that didnt kowtow to his grandiose idea of himself !! That hatred is part of the movements brand , poor nicolas whom I suspect is not a true born hater , has to act as he is full of hatred , convince himself of his hatred as a matter of brand loyalty , Because he is not a born hater his hatred act comes out exagerated , unconvincing , forced !! Maybe he would do better not to display a hatred that at least in part is just him inmmitating his dead boss!!

    • “… facing a movement. One that has a class hatred of all you were, are and have become.”

      That is a lot of hate you have going on there. What is it with you? Were you the token poor kid in a rich school? Were you bullied and just never got over it? Whatever it was, it is way past time for you to start dealing with it in a more productive manner.

    • You are funny, but actually not so funny since you seem to be seriously nuts. Kinda as in the hollywood evil archenemy type. I’d like to hear you say “one million dollars”. Could you record and post please? You are on an fbi watchlist aren’t you?

    • Cort, why are you employing that type of rhetoric here? you are not speaking to a crowd of PSUV supporters, you are posting on an opposition blog. these words are not going to resonate with them, just give them a chance to laugh at you. i don’t know your reasons for posting here. but if they’re anything like mine–and you’re genuinely interested in a dialogue, you’re going about it the wrong way.
      just trying to save you some energy.

  2. Your Revolution is delayed,over budget, and will never get finished, like every other public works project of this government. I’d say your dreams of future success were cute if they weren’t so sad.The question is no longer whether the Revolution will succeed, its how long will it take to finally collapse and how much more will it cost all Venezuelans.

  3. “We’re just at the beginning of what will surely be an exhausting, month-long clash of ideas, values, and personal styles…”

    I agree with the bit on personal styles, but judging by the last few years political campaigns in Venezuela are not based on ideas but on silly attempts to produce clever(?) hashtags to make it into the local trending topics list in Twitter.

    as for values, well… http://24.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_lzzusmXS3F1r4tbvwo1_500.gif

  4. There’s meat on them bones! Great stuff to chew on. Wonderful writing, Emi. Well done!

    Agree that Maduro, perhaps chavismo, too, has been on the defensive vis-à-vis Capriles. For I chuckled at the renaming of the abandoned doggie that accompanied the ‘cortejo fúnebre’, days ago. Any similarities with Capriles’ Nevado, as given to him by the people of Mérida, is merely coincidental. Not.

  5. I tell you, it sure as hell is entertainning this Capriles “sin pelos en la lengua” and speaking more Venezuelan than anyone. Even the most sifrino person in Venezuela shares those basic cultural references that in a way are part of our identity. That’s why I have been chuckling happily everytime I see Capriles warning: “No te vistas que no vas”… That’s just genius. And he is using those phrases now with such ease while Maduro seems forced and acted.
    No matter what the result is in a few weeks, long term Maduro no va pal baile…

  6. Emiliana Duarte,

    I invite you to reconsider what the unlevel playing field actually consists of.I think this post is a bit naive.

    What is behind the false revolution is a lot larger than one man, or even large than the group of idiots who support it.

    We need to face reality before we can consider a serious strategy.

    • Firepigette: Since you’ve given the playing field such great thought, and have encapsulated the issue, would you care to share your serious strategy with us?

  7. I’d argue that Venezuela is now the most politically aware country on the planet. People have a firm grasp on a wide range of issues, and understand which candidates stand for which positions.

    Talking about campaign personalities and cosmetics is like regressing back to a more primitive political culture, such as that of the USA, where your hairstyle actually matters and range of political debate is artificially narrow, excluding all the most important issues.

    The opposition politicians know it’s all about the candidate’s record and manifesto, which is why Capriles is gradually pretending to be more leftist. But he refuses to talk about popular power, because he doesn’t want to turn off his base, and about capitalism, because he knows that’s a dirty word for about 2/3 of the country.

    • so…. capriles the one who built(I don’t want to say it this way but I don’t know how to express it)42 schools and created schoolar routes for kids with mental disability and centros “pronto socorro”(kinda like barrio adentro), for me capriles is socialdemócrata

    • Yes, and thats why Maduro should stop spending time with the “silly rumors”. Leave that to La Hojilla. He should stay above the fray and don’t get into tit-for-tat with Capriles.

      • Well, if he does want to get petty, Maduro is taller, better looking, has nicer hair, a happy family, and appears more pleasant and agreeable than Capriles, who just can’t control how pissed and stressed he looks.

    • May the Corpse be With You, Always.

      That’s as serious as politics has gotten in Venezuela in the last weeks. Thank goodness! that now they are worshiping remains of dead political leaders. Progress indeed.

    • How can you say that Venezuela is the most politically aware country on the planet when most chavistas don’t even know about most of the deals we have with China? Or Russia? Or Iran? Have you tried asking a common chavista of the street what does the Boliviarian Revolution actually means?

      Campaign personalities and cosmetics? How much of Chavez’s appeal came through his act? Regardless of his ideas, he wasn’t exactly the most concrete thinker, defending ideas that were contradictory to each other, like marxism and christianism, and still, the people ate it up, after all, they don’t care about that, they wanted to see the Chavez that made jokes and danced around in a stage, they couldn’t care less about his political views. Now Maduro is shamesly trying to cash in on that, is there anything else in is government program other than being Chávez 2? does he even have a government program to begin with? How much different is that from people in the US voting for someone who has good hair or carries babies for the photographs.

      Indeed you seem to have something with the US, there is at least one reference to the US in your posts.

  8. Yes, the new and improved populist Capriles fools no one and him stirring the pot is more to keep his demoralized base from going to the beach or the mall and it won’t help either. Its not an attempt than to win new converts.

    His stirring of the pot just inflames the revolution even more than it was and once the masses are aroused there’s no stopping them, the bureaucracy has tried for 14 years to sabotage, throw roadblocks up or slow them down with the help from the oppo’s and capitalists but they keep going.Its amazing how long they have lasted.

    Y’all, like I said earlier do not really get it, what revolution is ? (read some Trotsky or Lenin) When you come crying again, making this excuse or another saying you was robbed because Maurdo won with ease. remember this,the real struggle is what comes after to complete the revolution, within it, when those who just speak and mouth the words meet those who are the real deal because we all are gettting tired of these representative bourgeois type elections.

    Don’t get hit by the puke or the stick in the Face Off…

    • Cort,
      What does “…and the revolution will be completed” actually mean? And might you illustrate how Lenin or Trotsky are relevant to Venezuela in your view?

    • Its not like Chávez didn’t use a much different, lighter and conciliatory rethoric before he got to power, hiding his true intentions, when are you going to step into the 21st century and leave all that burgeois crap behind? We’re all waiting for you buddy.

  9. “The bureaucracy has tried for 14 years to sabotage , throw roadblocks or slow them down with the help of the oppos and capitalists….” Cort are you suggesting that there are counterevolutionary bureacrats inside the government right now plotting agains the revolution ?? If so why did Chavez not unmask them and throw them out of the movement ?? why doesnt Maduro do so now?? who are they ?? Is it possible that Maduro or Diosdado are protecting or harbouring them because they dont understand what the revolution is about or because they themselves are unknown to themselves actually counterevolutionaries??

  10. The funny thing is this election comes down to Maduro winning because of Chavez’s support and the typical abuse of power. According to Datanalisis Maduro has a 14 point lead and only a huge scandal can change the course of the elections.

    I still think Maduro will be blamed for the snowball of issues and corruption that has been growing for the past 14 years, and are about to generate the worst economic crisis in the contemporary history of Venezuela. He will be the revolutionary scapegoat. Blaming Chavez? Ni de vaina!

  11. I am baffled that someone can called the playing field level.
    The people that are going to vote are not in a level playing field.

    A) You have those that are looking for a change, what I define as the romantics looking at Capriles as the guy who will bring Venezuela to “virtual reality” of a country of openness, opportunity, equality, etc or something that maybe they experineced in their past.Maybe 15-20% of the voting capable adults

    B) Then you have that layer of population that have made a living as part of the ever expanding bureaucracy of the government. If I have woek and buy stuff why am I going to upset the system.Think the 80, 0000 people of PDVSA alone. Now just get that number and multiply it by 7 and that will give the direct and indirect people influenced by these.So in reality these 80K become more like 560K souls only thinking about themselves.Extrapolate this to the remaining government institutions and you can reach a number between 1.5 and 2 Million red souls

    C) Now let’s think about all of the population at powerty level that are depedent on the day to day pwrceived gifts they obtain from the government. How many of these souls are going to risk giving this

    So we have a population hypnotized since 1998 by a guy who also dismantled all structures, purged all organizations, dismantled any potential private entity that could pose a problem and made a large % of the population dependent

    Even if the team captain (Maduro) is not that good their team is still in better shape than the opposition team

    We have a weakened population , who is spending now more of their time finding the cesta basica elements than really thinking about long term issues

    These fast fire elections are the right choice for the government, they will win another term that will further neutered the population

    Sadly history has shown that fallouts are the only vehicles to create change under these conditions, however are Venezuelans really ready to fight for a better country or will the staus quo satisfy the needs of the masses

    • “fallouts are the only vehicles to create change under these conditions” except if you offer the electible alternative of cash distribution, which sadly fails to move forward, not because chavistas don’t want it, but because too many in the opposition would rather that maduro control the oil revenues, than the citizens.

  12. I cannot for the life of me understand why you guys and gals, let Cort even ellicit one single answer to his nonsense. He is nothing… Just a silly troll. His purpose here is to distract and ennervate you. Una mosca boba. Can’t translate that into silly fly. Echale flit y ya.

  13. Emiliana, sincere congrats on your great/insightful writing. True, the playing field, from a strictly candidate-centric perspective, is as level as it’s ever been. But, as you well know, the playing field from all other perspectives is greatly-tilted against the Opposition. As Di says above, the large majority of Venezuelans won’t vote against there meager current handouts, either by their own or frequently coerced/threatened free will. Still, a gallant selfless Capriles’ effort must be made to keep the Opposition a viable “maid-in-waiting” for the inevitable collapse of the Chavista masses’ love affair.

    • Thank you, NET, for your kind words! Like you noticed, my post never meant to downplay the clearly abusive and insurmountable gov’t advantages that are at play. It was only a comment on campaign dynamics. But the mere fact that we’re even ALLOWED to comment on campaign dynamics these days, for me, signals a welcome change in the political landscape, regardless of the fact that this will translate into a victory for the opposition. It’s one of the many things we Venezuelans have taken for granted all these years, and we should start to take notice.

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