AMLO outside the Senate, Monday, October 26

Worker's Party Deputy Mario di Costanzo Tears Apart Carstens Economic Plan

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Why Obama and not Obrador?

For this blogger, the festivities and rejoicing of last Tuesday night, where Barack Obama swamped John McCain in the electoral college and the Democrats picked up decisive majorities in both Houses of Congress, came with a bittersweet edge. Watching the returns at an election party, surrounded by cheers and clapping as the networks projected an Obama victory and the epicenter of the global party erupted in Chicago's Grant Park, I turned to my wife and said: "Mexico deserved this two years ago." At that moment, applauding along with the rest, part of me was back on that infamous night of July 2nd, 2006, watching the networks, and then the President of the IFE, proclaim the race to be too close to call, watching the helicopter shot from above following Lopez Obrador's car as it wound its way through the Mexico City night, watching as he arrived in the Zocalo to ensure his puzzled and mystified supporters that he was not going to accept the doctored results being offered up by official channels, that the fight would go on. The next morning, July 3rd, all of us got up to see that Obrador had taken a decisive lead in the district-by-district vote count, one he maintained throughout the entire day, only to lose it at 3 AM in the morning as the yellow and blue lines crossed on the chart and Calderón was annointed with a virtual victory of one-half of one percent. Losing honestly, disappointing though it would have been, would not have been a problem; it was having the thing snatched away through dead-of-night machinations that hurt so much.

So what did Obama do that Obrador didn't? First off, it is important to point out that the similarity between the two men is substantial. In general terms, as Jaime Aviles pointed out in yesterday's Jornada, "Both [of them] - the 'legitimate president' of Mexico and the president-elect of the United States - agree that, in order to reduce the devastating effect of the crisis amongst the most vulnerable sectors of the population, it is necessary to strengthen the role of the state, revive the internal market, stimulate the creation of jobs and rescue the poor." That last one may be a bit of an overstatement: whereas it was Obrador who made a focus on the poor the centerpiece of his campaign ("For the well-being of all, the poor come first"), Obama's campaign, with its obsessive focus on the middle-class (read: swing voters) ignored the poor just about as much as the McCain camp did. Nevertheless, the platforms of both the Democratic and PRD candidate were strikingly alike in a series of key areas: Obama: tax cuts for the middle class to be paid for by tax increases for those making over $250,000; Obrador: lower gas and electricity costs for individuals and businesses to be paid for by having the rich actually pay taxes instead of deducting and deferring them away. Obama: energy independence through alternative energies and increased domestic oil production; Obrador: energy independence through increased oil production and the construction of three new refineries. Obama: an immediate stimulus package including money for public works, extended unemployment benefits and aid to state and local governments; Obrador: an immediate stimulus package including money for public works, a modern train link to the US, and a national public pension for those 70 and over. And so on.

Obama and Obrador are also alike in another very important way: both have attempted to create a political structure independent of the traditional party system, Obama through his website, network of donors, and community organization, and Obrador through the "redes ciudadanas," the "citizen's networks," before the election and the several million-member strong "legitimate government" after it. It is in the differing successes of these networks, in fact, that a large part of the differing fortunes of the two men can be pinpointed. Obama succeeded in raising tremendous amounts of money through his network within a plutocratic elections system that heavily favors the haves over the have-nots in terms of campaign cash. In the US, public financing, and the limits associated with them, are optional. In Mexico, public financing is obligatory, as is, theoretically, the spending limits associated with them. Obama's network, inspired by the candidate's charisma, succeeded in identifying large numbers of new voters and getting them to the polls. Obrador's network, inspired as well by its candidate's charisma, motivated a large number of voters, but failed in organizing sufficient oversight of the actual voting and vote-count processes, and, like Gore in 2000 and Kerry in 2004, did not succeed in racking up a large-enough advantage to counteract the shaving-off of votes through identical means of electoral fraud: the purging of voter rolls, the manipulating of ballots and the untoward interventions of the US Supreme Court, on one hand, and Mexico's Federal Electoral Tribunal on the other. To this should be added two more important factors: the identical negative campaign tactics which Obama was more successful in both utilizing and neutralizing, and which I believe American voters have become more inured to after seeing them in use over and over again, year after year. In Mexico, these tactics, especially the 30-second attack ad, are much newer on the scene, and consequently had a much more visceral effect. And lastly, the economic crisis, which detonated just in time for Obama this past October. Would he have won, or won as handily, in July of 2006?

Overall, though, it must be admitted that Lopez Obrador had to fight a much more uphill battle, with more against him. In the US, for example, the Clintons grumbled and groaned, but did eventually get out and campaign for Obama. How much of a difference would it have made here, for example, if Cuathemoc Cardenas could have put his ego just a couple of inches aside and hit the hustings for his party's candidate. Plus, Obrador had Mexico's absolutely hermetic, all-powerful political, financial and media elite to contend with. As José Agustin Ortiz Pinchetti writes:

"The election of Barack Obama induces us to make some unpleasant comparisons. Let's compare the evolution of American society with our own over the past 40 years. In 1968, Martin Luther King was assassinated and the Mexican government ordered the slaughter at Tlatelolco. Since then, Americans have succeeded in dismantling white hegemony and banning racism without a civil war breaking out. Obama's triumph is symbolic; for many years, racial minorities have opened a breach in the elite due to a system of meritocracy. We, meanwhile, have founded in a decadence that now threatens us with collapse. Our racism has only become more acute, without our being capable of admitting it. A minority of Creoles that doesn't represent even 5% of the population continues to impose an economic dictatorship on the rest of the classes and castes. Control over the media provides a soporific effect while poverty and destitution increase. The American crisis detonated our own, but we have neither their resources nor their flexibility. Our country has not grown in 25 years because 50 groups control the market and prevent competition. Whereas Amercian democracy has just demonstrated its vigor, our own democratic transition has been shipwrecked."

Agree or not with all of Pinchetti's black-and-white comparisons made in the glow of this past Tuesday - and I do not see America anywhere near as rosily as Pinchetti paints it here - it is a fair assessment of Mexico, and by extension what Lopez Obrador in his campaign, was and continue to be up against. This does not excuse Obrador his campaign's failings, but fraud is fraud, and one can only hope that Mexico will only need one 2006, while the United States needed both a 2000 and a 2004, to realize that "Yes, we can."

1 comment:

Humberto said...

Really cool post. I would like to add that against Obrador was and is still the mayority of the newly middle class which is afraid of lowering its middle status, and all or most of the industrial sector whcih is also strongly related to the USA one...