The politics of stereotypes
For The Herald
Battle lines are being drawn up ahead of the October midterms
Two months from now, the politicos of the land will be engaged in feverish negotiations to write down the electoral slates for the August primary and the October midterms elections. But names aside, the stage is already set and the main actors already have a role to play. Most of them, including those of the media, are dangerously stereotyped.
The country’s two best-selling newspapers, Clarín and La Nación, trumpeted in tandem on their front pages last weekend opinion polls indicating that President Mauricio Macri’s approval ratings had improved in April after having nosedived in February and March. There is a nuance to the info: these newspapers did not flag on their covers the same polls when they were showing the decline. The La Nación poll, conducted by the firm Poliarquía, detected a six-percentage point increase in the President’s image. Clarín’s, conducted by the Management & Fit, showed a mere 1.4 percent gain, hardly worth a banner headline in normal circumstances.
But the circumstances are not normal. The government started the second quarter of the year with an April 1 demonstration in its favour that was unexpectedly large in the city of Buenos Aires and elsewhere in the country. Until then, the Macri administration had struggled to build a narrative of its own, one that could capture the imagination of the half-plus Argentines who voted the President into office in the November 2015 second round. That day’s march convinced the Casa Rosada that it first needed to serve its own ranks rather than try to expand them.
A month earlier, a columnist in La Nación who is also a public opinion expert, Eduardo Fidanza, wrote that the government had lost “the charm” in the eye of many of its voters, who after 16 months in office wanted to see some “economic or symbolical reward” for having supported the administration. Hoping to regain that charm, and unable to give them bread, the government moved to give its public the circuses instead. The “circus” comes in the form of blaming everything that is wrong about the country on the “rampant” corruption of the former administration, which was “taking Argentina down the Venezuela way.”
The stereotyped version of the Macri administration could not be possible if it did not have its mirror version in a stereotyped opposition. The followers of former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner call this government “a dictatorship” and stage escrache exposure demonstrations every time they get a physical shot at the President. The latest happened in his hometown Tandil in the province of Buenos Aires, as a handful of people verbally abused the head-of-state when he was walking out of the local church with his five-year-old daughter Antonia. For this side of the spectrum, Macri’s governing programme only seeks to multiply the number of poor and unemployed people, which would be a weird way of trying to win an election.
The stereotyped version of the opposition is gaining ground and is likely to take centre stage once the electoral season gets started. The handful of political talk shows that are all-out critical of the government (which mostly air in the C5N cable news network owned by the Indalo Group that also owns the Herald) do not try to see any shades of grey in the government’s action. Their narrative is simple and straightforward: the administration is manned by a bunch of filthy rich businessmen who are here to engross their businesses and those of their friends, push the vast majority of Argentines below the poverty line and crack the skulls of those who dare to oppose their plans.
It is still not clear where the Argentine public is standing in the light of this stereotyped parody. But there are some early indications that it might be in a more sensible (impossible?) middle ground. The government is scratching its head over a poll circulating in palace circles that show 63 percent of Argentines do not agree with demonstrators blocking roads to put forward their claims, but 58 percent saying they are against police forcefully evicting them, and even a higher 72 percent contrary to repression if there are women and children manning the picket demonstration. Do Argentines wish to have it both ways?
This type of contradictory opinion is what gives the likes of Sergio Massa and his Renewal Front a ray of hope ahead of the election. Massa wants to be president of Argentina in 2019 (he got roughly 20 percent of the votes in 2015) by walking along what he describes as “a wide centre avenue.” In order to win or at least to have a change he needs to break up the polarised stunt that the Cambiemos government and Kirchnerite opposition are offering. Massa, a former mayor of Tigre and former Cabinet chief under Cristina Kirchner, is also playing his own role of wannabe statesman, hoping to sail over the cracking differences. As things look today, he might find just enough room to survive but hardly to reach the top.