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PANdering to the base off-base

7 July 2009

Patrick Corcoran, at “Gancho Blog” was trying to figure out which U.S. public figure most closely resembles Germán Martínez, who was (until today) PAN party chair.

Patrick looks at various hapless figures (Michael Steele of the Republican Party, Floyd Mayweather) but if I ever tried to find an analogy in the U.S. to Martínez, my figures would be someone more like Ralph Reed (of the now defunct Christian Coalition), former Texas Congressman (and future Federal inmate) Tom DeLay, or one-time Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.

PAN, like the U.S. Republican Party, appeals to   — as Dr. Johnson said of the Metaphyical Poetry — “the most heterogeneous ideas yoked by violence together.”  At the same time the parties push “traditional religious values”, they encourage  cupidity, and looking forward to a glorious past, hoping to broaden their appeal to to the masses with a nationalism that excluded a goodly number of the nation’s people.

Ironically, Felipe Calderon chose Martinez to prevent rifts in the party between the religious right and the more pragmatic business wing.  As David Agren writes (and YEAH! … he’s writing on Mexican politics again) on his own website, “Tales From San Lazaro”:

Martínez promised unity for a party that was split among warring factions, and divided over the leadership of polemic outgoing president Manuel Espino, whose conservative and Catholic factions never warmed to the 2006 candidacy of President Felipe Calderón. Martínez also promised to put an end to an electoral losing streak that had cost the PAN state and local governments in places such as Yucatán, Aguascalientes and Mazatlán. He said that the continuation of such electoral calamities – blamed on party infighting over nominations – would ultimately result in the PAN losing the presidency in 2012.

Martínez — like Reed, DeLay and Gingrich might have been a brilliant organizer, but was limited in his appeal outside his own “comfort zone”, and  his own prejudices kept popping up at inconvenient times.  Anti-Semetism might still lurk in some Mexican hearts, — and his published attack on then U.S. President-elect Barack Obama and the Jews it might have earned PAN some points with its own “base” — but it served only to remind Mexican intellectuals of PAN’s fascist roots, and served the rest of the Mexican electorate as a reminder of the party’s upper-class biases.  Anti-Semetism never made much of a headway in Mexico (other than an outbreak — among the fascists who later founded PAN) and was never particularly relevant to working class or middle class Mexico.  What Mexicans are proud of, and what distinguishes them from other Latin American countries like Peru (and Honduras) is that there is no real “criollo elite”.  Most Mexicans were highly impressed when the U.S. elected a president who  is — as they are — of mixed ethnicity and rather… uh… brown.

Another Mexican trait has been politesse and consensus building.  In the 17th and 18th century, “Polite as a Mexican” was used in Spanish to mean someone very, very polite.  And, though politics is a rough sport in this country, politness is expected.  Something Martinez tended to forget when talking about his political opponents.   Mexican Fascism — with dominance over one’s opponents the ultimate good — may still leave room for good manners, but Martinez, coming from the “piety wing” also tended to see opponents not as people to be dominated (politely if possible, by force if necessary), but as sinners.  This does not build consensus (especially when it came to complex, morally neutral issues like changing the tax code) and did not make him popular within his own party.  Or effective outside it.  As Agren says:

Martínez also was the public face of a fierce PAN electoral offensive that accused the PRI of being a half-hearted participant in the war on drugs and blamed it for failing to tackle the cartel problem during the years that it ruled the country. That strategy may have worked; it perhaps prevented the July 5 vote from being a complete wipe out, but not much more.

That strategy angered many in the PRI, whose leadership largely responded to the attacks in a non-combative fashion. And now with the PRI wielding power in San Lazaro, Martínez became an obstacle to Calderón pushing any sort of reforms through Congress in the latter half of his administration. Martínez’s departure became even more necessary since the lower house is entirely responsible for the passing the budget – the PAN-led Senate has no role in the process.

I don’t know if Martinez is totally to blame for his problems in drawing support to the party.  Felipe Calderon, just before the election, went off on a riff on Michael Jackson’s death, attacking narcotics users and atheists which — fortunately for the Party — was pretty much overlooked.

I’ve written elsewhere on other PAN attempts to make a political issue out of a non-existent social “problem“, so — despite the party’s poor performance during its two installations at Los Pinos (unemployment has doubled, narcotics violence has skyrocketed, and the gringos are seen as controlling more and more of the Mexican economy)… it may not just be political and economic issues that are causing voters to look for alternatives.   It may be, as with the Republicans as a result of listening to Gingrich, and De Lay and Reed, that the base is not really representative of the voters, or the nation.  It just thinks it is.

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