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Midterm media mish-mash — four points

13 July 2009

A lot of nonsense (or what I see as nonsense) has been floating around regarding the midterm elections here.

First — the significance of the “huge” non-vote. It wasn’t all that huge, and doesn’t mean much of anything.  Voter turnout was about 42 percent.  This is actually a fairly good number, compared with similar “off-year” elections in the United States, where turnout for non-Presidential year elections has hovered around 37 percent since 1990.  In other words, despite an organized political force that discourages voting (the Zapatista’s “other campaign”).

Secondly — the PRI victory is a “return to corruption” .   This depends on a belief that PAN administrations governed in a markedly different way than previous PRI administrations (or, on a regional scale, PRD ones).

Although since the mid-1990s, the differences between state and party functions have been more clearly delineated,  and the various parties have to compete for the chance at governance, that hasn’t altered the structure of party politics.

Like machine politics anywhere, parties reward their friends and supporters, or seek to reward potential supporters.  PAN has proven no less inimical to doling out favors for, or accepting them from, its supporters than PRI.  Or PRD.  The only difference — as seen by Mexican voters — was that PAN’s favored clients tended to be remote from the daily concerns of the average voter, something Elisabeth Malkin picked up (possibly without being aware of it) when she wrote about a “Nostalgia for Past Corruption” in the New York Times:

“Yes, I admit the PRI is corrupt,” said Luis Osorio, a juice vendor in Mexico City, on Monday as he discussed election news with customers stopping by his stand. “So we voted for the PAN, and they turned out to be just as corrupt. They turned everything into their personal business.”

At the local level, where popular PRI governors operate with few controls from the federal government, the party responded to the economic meltdown with handouts of items like food and material goods.

The PRI tolerates a bending of the rules that allows working people, like illegal street vendors or unlicensed cabdrivers, to earn a living.

PAN’s corruption, in other words, is more like that in the United States (where, being the accepted practice, it’s not seen as corrpution)… allowing business interests to dictate national policy, or to influence legislatation (as on the television regulation bill and the special exemptions for U.S.-owned Banamex  from normal regulatory oversight).

Third:  Those who marked their ballots for PRI “began turning Mexico to the dark corners of its past.” This particuarly unfortunate statement came from what is otherwise a good website, “Hermanautic Circle Blog”… when it comes to art criticism.  I like this site, and often link to it, but the coverage of the election was toxic.

To misquote Joseph Goebbels, “when I see the word ‘Hermanautics’ I reach for my encyclopedia.”  Hemanautics is the “understanding and interpretation of linguistic and non-linguistic expressions.”.  It is not — and here’s where Goebbels seems to fit in — using lingusitic and non-linguistic expressions to market a pre-conceived bias.

The post in question is headed by a huge, and highly unflatterly, photograph of PRI chair Beatriz Paredes, identified as “A new boss in town, PRI jefa…”

Paredes is not a glamour girl, but then again, the idea of judging a female politician on her looks has been considered sexist for a number of years now.  And… given the comments on the article (“She looks like a chola without a Barrio”) in the reprint (Intersections), it’s obvious that was the intent.  As to the “linguistics”, phrasing like “a dark return to the past” is confusing governance and party.   Certainly, had Luis Echiverria not been Secretaria de gobernacion in 1968, the Tlatelolco Massacre might not have happened, but that was a government — not a party — failure.

And, if we are going to mix party and government, we have to consider the successes:  taking the military out of the political arena, creating a middle class, devleoping a broad-based public education system, support for farmers, rural electrification, and on and on.

“Hermanautics Circle Blog” also mentions a “creepy alliance bloc” with the Green Party.  Creepy?  Sounds eeeeeviiiil.  Though what’s evil about fusion campaigns I don’t know.  They’re only done in a few states in the U.S. (Minnesota and New York that I know of), but it’s standard in most countries.  The Greens may not be everyone’s taste, but they did fairly well, and there’s nothing “creepy” about alliances in Mexican politics.  There was nothing “creepy” about the “FAP” leftist alliance (PRD, PT and Convengencia), nor the PAN-PRD alliances in the 1997-2000 legislature, responsible for several changes in governance.  Coalition politics is creepy? It’s irresponsible language, and designed to create the impression that the alliance is a sinister one, not a normal political tactic common in every democratic nation.

Finally:  the assumption that Calderon was popular.  While polling data showed support for the “drug war” and for Calderon,  even Carlos Salinas (who was despised) generally polled favorably when he was in office.  People respect the President,and tend to give him the benefit of the doubt.  Polls of “likely voters” showed about the results we saw in the election.  Calderon, who was barely elected with a little over a third of the vote (if he was elected) benefitted in his election campaign from quasi-official support from the previous administration, good marketing and the luck of having a fragmented PRI and a polemical adversary on the left who could be spun as “dangerous”.  Faced with a rebuilt, resurgent PRI, which has paid attention to its base, and widened its support (while his own party fragmented) has exposed how hollow that support actually was.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. 13 July 2009 10:11 am

    I’m in agreement with most everything you say about the elections in your four points but what is this? “….something Elisabeth Malkin picked up (possibly without being aware of it) when she wrote about a “Nostalgia for Past Corruption” in the New York Times…..” Possibly without being aware of it? Really, cheap shots only drop you down to the level of Honduran gardeners posing as bloggers. There isn’t any need for ad hominum snide remarks about someone whose knowledge of Mexico and its economy is superb. Someone who has lived here during the PRI administrations of which she speaks so authoritatively. It’s very cute to interject little barbs at the MSM and it’s reporters, and it will probably win you some points with a large portion of your readers, but unfortunately, this time, it’s far, far from the truth. And really, isn’t THAT what it’s all about?
    Elizabeth knows about what she writes, and the implications of her words. Ideas and sentences don’t just drop into to her stories like manna from heaven, undiscerned, as you seem to imply. She’s out on the street, walking, talking and reporting. And if you want to report and write about these elections, what better place to be?

    • 13 July 2009 3:16 pm

      Elisabeth Malkin is one of the better foreign reporters in Mexico (one of the few “real” reporters left) and no insult intended.

      Perhaps it might have been better to say “without the editors being aware of it.” Nothing against Ms. Malkin (other than the usual complaints about the NY Times being too focused — like all U.S. media — on a few recurring themes). As I read the article, it begins with the premise that “not-PRI” = “not corrupt” .

      Of course, Elisabeth Malkin is writing for a daily newspaper — and one that publishes at the most a few paragraphs on Mexico in any given day. In a perfect world (with an unlimited story budget… and no deadlines) the story might have been different. Having the luxury of doing follow-up, I can riff off her themes, which doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate her leg work.

  2. Anna permalink
    14 July 2009 7:58 pm

    What difference or any difference has anyone noticed in the NYTimes coverage of Mexico since Senor Slim became a partner/future owner?

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