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OP-ED | 03-03-2018 07:48

Editorial: A man for all seasons

The main thrust of Macri’s speech is equally reflected by what he said and did not say.

The points of contrast between President Mauricio Macri’s third state-of-the-nation speech and its two predecessors should not disguise their continuity. The dominant tone of the first (just 10 weeks after inauguration) was crisis management from a dire inheritance, while the second was aggressively partisan in an electoral year – with “the worst is over” and a more conciliatory approach this time ut, Macri avoided both these themes on Thursday. Yet a crisis remains latent with the insistence on gradualism, while minimising the political and electoral rhetoric is, in itself, supremely political and electoral.

With his 40-minute speech Macri could be seen as attempting to kiss goodbye to the polarisation against Kirchnerism that characterised his administration through to last October’s midterms – and for at least two reasons. Because ideologically he played both ends and because the political was outweighed by domestic and individual concerns in his choice of agenda. One prime example of how he played both ends would be appealing to progressives by launching a debate on abortion (although he reassured his more conservative and traditionalist constituency that he himself was “in favour of life”) while at the same time pandering to the right with a stout defence of the police forces. And not just left and right – the latter-day feminism of abortion and equal pay for women while injecting more testerone into law enforcement will be viewed by some as attempting to woo both genders simultaneously.

The main thrust of Macri’s speech is equally reflected by what he said and did not say. Although attracting the most attention, abortion was far from being the only personal issue crossing party lines which was highlighted by Macri – child obesity, road accidents, paternity leave, national parks, runing water and sewage, to name a few, all fall into the category of not lending themselves easily to political or partisan debate.

At the same time various heavyweight political themes were significantly omitted and this is where it gets interesting. Macri’s three main reform packages – the fiscal (even though the approval of taxes and budgets is the primal duty of all parliaments), pensions (with an explosive passage last December) and labour (reduced to the inclusion of the informally employed, dropping any serious bid to cut payroll costs) – were downplayed or wholly absent with the ongoing epic confrontation with teamster Hugo Moyano airbrushed out of the picture. Nor was there anything on the crucial relationship with the provinces, apart from a passing reference to last year’s fiscal pact. Foreign policy was also strangely absent considering Macri’s obsession with re-entering the world and the country’s current G20 chairmanship – the rest of the world mainly surfaced when urging the importance of attracting foreign tourists (a topic absorbing fully two of the 40 minutes).

The most obvious interpretation here would be that abortion etc. serves as a smokescreen for more serious economic issues. Claiming “the worst is over” seems obviously premature with soaring public service charges pushing inflation up. But it could also respond to a very PRO perception of the modern citizenry as revolving around social networks rather than any party or ideology, privatising the public sphere to the more apolitical social concerns. Macri’s speech did not quite descend to the infantile levels of Shirley Temple’s song “Be optimistic,” but came close at times. In this context the apolitical becomes political.

Much more prominence for individual priorities than any big picture but then Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Little Prince tell us: “What is essential is invisible to the eye” (perhaps this inspired Macri to his bizarre concept of “invisible growth”?) Meanwhile, with the #MeToo movement likely to dominate tomorrow’s Oscar ceremony in Hollywood and International Women’s Day on the horizon, let us wait and see how far Macri really goes down the road toward feminism, before we declare him a new convert.

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