Monday, June 27, 2022

OPINION AND ANALYSIS | 25-05-2019 08:19

The sum is less than the parts

A unique achievement – the first time that a vice-presidential candidate has announced who would be “their” candidate for the presidency on this continent.

I never considered Cristina Fernández de Kirchner to be a bad candidate, nor did I ever say that she is the rival who would most suit Mauricio [Macri]. Both in Perfil and in dozens of interviews over the last decade I have always stated the contrary.

Every study indicates that Cristina is the best opposition candidate. It would be absurd to think that Mauricio could tip a mediocre opposition candidate in order to win easily because in that case he would have promoted a born loser like Daniel Filmus and not bothered to campaign. Cristina is a powerful candidate because she leads an important percentage of Argentines who want an authoritarian society which protects their interests. Democracy makes them feel insecure.

A candidate with that strength does not vacate power. She must win it for herself, or install a puppet under her control. Mystery and surprise are typical Kirchnerite power plays. In his time Néstor [Kirchner] had us dangling over “male or female penguin.” [Amado] Boudou was a last-minute vicepresidential nomination by a Cristina feigning hesitation. Her idea of “power belonging to myself and my family” was made manifest when she received the attributes of office from her daughter after her re-election, while refusing to hand them over to the president-elect [in 2015] because she considered that a surrender.

She cannot be understood without resorting to psychology. As Jorge Fontevecchia wrote about Cristina earlier this month: “Over and above her psychology, whether primary narcissism, megalomania, paranoid fixation or delusions of grandeur, all categories lead to a similar aetiology: she’s in love with herself as a matter of choice. And all these causes share the same symptoms: exaggerated notions of grandeur which affect the quest for rationality.”


CFK’s book launch brought to light what many refused to see: she represents an undemocratic worldview shared by many Argentines and Latin Americans. Some members of the círculo rojo (“red circle,” or otherwise the establishment) speak of the need for “opposition unity” to confront CFK, thus betraying what they feel. That in reality Cristina is the power around which all else revolves. They maintain that ancient superstition whereby the Peronists are the only people who can govern Argentina.

The Book Fair event was extraordinary. Rarely does a candidate kick off a campaign by launching a book without even referring to it. Cristina delivered an interesting and serene speech in which she repeatedly said that she did not want to annoy anybody. There were brilliant passages such as when she described how books take on a life of their own as they are written. It would have been a good piece of oratory for an auditorium of academics but nobody of that mentality was listening to the speech and it fell on deaf ears.

In the VIP lounge the onlookers from the Kirchnerite élite were stunned: instead of a furious harangue they were hearing reflections. But they behaved themselves. Nobody yelled the slogans which were boiling up inside them, more in tune with the violent content of the book. Sheik Mohsen Ali posed for photos cuddling up to Aníbal Fernández and Felipe Solá, instead of repeating that AMIA [the 1994 terrorist car-bomb destruction of the Jewish community centre] was the work of the Jews themselves. All of them would have liked a more violent event, like the inauguration as organised by the Book Fair authorities, but Cristina was addressing a civilised public.

Beyond the main venue there was a group of militants who managed to live in Recoleta in the “won decade” and want more. These are not poor people, they are ambitious petty bourgeois. They insulted, spat at and pulled the hair of a valiant TN (Todo Noticias) reporter who continued transmitting with that determination characteristic of women. Reminiscent of the demonstrations organised by [Kirchnerite human rights leader] Hebe de Bonafini to “judge” the media in Plaza de Mayo, while she taught children to spit at the photos of journalists.

On the streets, in the midst of a downpour, were 5,000 poor people bussed in to participate in this cultural event. They got wet but shouted out their wishes to hang onto their social plans. Lázaro Báez explained it well when he said that he never got on well with the lady in question because “darkies like me disgust her.” She is an aspiring elitist who feels happy in Harvard where she reminded those present that “this is not the University of La Matanza.”

A few days later Cristina met with Peronist political leaders. She delivered a speech without listening to a word they said and then ordered a photograph to be taken in which they appeared with their hands raised like the Dalmatians of Cruella de Vil. She was always peevish with everybody – governors, Peronist leaders and Casa Rosada employees.

Many former Kirchnerite officials and judges took fright and bowed their heads in the face of the possibility that she might win. True to the [Eugenio] Zaffaroni doctrine, they will release murderers and motochorros (“motorcycle thieves”), they will invent dirty tricks and pettifogging legal interpretations to acquit them, they will create another pro-crime courtroom party, unique in the world. Soon they will be inventing some ploy to confine many of those who were taking a break from all the blows and the rudeness.


Leaders cannot do just anything. Societies are complex with collective forces and interests facing each other in competition. Everything has become more complex with the revolution in communications. Political diagnosis requires study, research, quantification, thought and analysis of the problems from various prisms.

On the one hand, experience is indispensable. Those who have been in politics for years have skills which allow them to understand automatically issues which are not so self-evident for others. That is the art of politics. Malcolm Gladwell develops this topic masterfully in his book Blink: The Power of Thinning Without Thinking.

On the other hand, techniques of scientific analysis are used today which complement this art with thought. These have been developed in the United States ever since Joseph Napolitan worked on the Kennedy campaign and they have been systematised academically since the foundation of the “West Point of politics,” the Graduate School of Political Management of George Washington University. Two professors from that faculty, Santiago Nieto and the author of this article, have been working together in Argentine elections for the last 15 years applying those techniques without ever losing.

Scientific development makes it increasingly more important to study psychology in order to understand political communication. In Argentina Daniel López Rosetti has just published his book Equilibrio (Balance), which should be read by anybody who wants to be a candidate. In a previous book by the same author Emoción y sentimientos (“Emotion and feelings”), he affirms: “We are not rational beings but emotional beings who reason.” The books of Facundo Manes – Usar el cerebro: conocer nuestra mente para vivir mejor (“Use your brain: know our minds to live better”) and El cerebro argentino (“The Argentine brain”) – are equally important. There is a vast bibliography in English from the last few years to which we have referred in other articles.

But there is something more important than that: out of the revolution in communications a world is being born which we cannot decode and in which the voters have acquired an unimaginable independence. Society breaks down into small communities which function without anybody being able to manage them. Entire professions disappear, chains of command break down, we human beings have become different. Apart from books by Harari and Friedman mentioned at other times, Andrés Oppenheimer’s latest Salvase quién pueda (“Save yourself who can”) is a must read.

Within this context the antipathy towards the past, politicians, leaders, institutions, parties and trade unions has grown. The broader the support, the more likely defeat as we have seen with [José Antonio] Meade in Mexico, [Geraldo] Alckmin in Brazil, Hillary [Clinton] in the United States and several others.


I was just winding up this article when news arrived that Cristina had announced her ticket as Alberto Fernández as presidential candidate, with herself as his running-mate for veep. A unique achievement – the first time that a vice-presidential candidate has announced who would be “their” candidate for the presidency on this continent, leaving perfectly clear who’s boss. The second unique feature is that with the image of Alberto she hardens her ceiling while losing the solidity of her floor.

Writing political diagnoses is one of the jobs of our profession. We have been doing this recently in seven Latin American countries, including Mexico and Brazil. Serious political studies are not the fruit of intuition – they use numerical data, studies and the extensive bibliography which exists on these issues. Fronts fail because the mathematics of politics is far from elementary. You have to add everything up but also subtract and – given the annoyance with the past – you normally subtract more than you add. How many new votes does Alberto Fernández bring to Cristina? The few who look kindly on him because he used to insult Cristina ferociously will surely not join her now. The ceiling is not raised. Many Cristina supporters eye Alberto askance and this lowers the floor.

The mathematical equation is: ‘C votes plus new A votes minus C votes discouraged by A. That is the mathematical calculation with the figures we have available. The balance is clearly negative. If this gets other Peronist leaders to join a primary, that can only worsen.

The leaders with the worst image will go, thus increasing the negative balance. The democratic Peronist leaders, above all if they think they have a future, will need to differentiate themselves. Anybody using minimal logic will know that this grouping will be led by Cristina, no matter in which slot she appears.

Identification with authoritarian populism will kill any Peronist alternative which wants to exist in the democracy of the future.

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Jaime Duran Barba

Jaime Duran Barba


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