Out cold but still on his feet.
A small push...
The fighter crashes to the canvas. KO.
Good night sweet prince.
Is that what will happen Sunday, February 23?
Jaime Nebot is the 68-year-old mayor of Guayaquil. He is running for re-election. Nebot was the Number 1 aide, understudy and stand-in for León Febres-Cordero, President of Ecuador during the Reagan years 1984-1988.
To phrase it diplomatically, Febres-Cordero was authoritarian. Nobody knows how many people were tortured and murdered under his regime. The most notorious case is the Restrepo brothers, aged 14 and 17, who were arrested, tortured and imprisoned without legal charges. Despite massive searches over the decades, the teenagers´ bodies were never found. Their sister made a documentary film, which won numerous awards, about her family´s horrific ordeal. I saw María Fernanda´s movie; it is moving.
Nebot is opposed by Viviana Bonilla, candidate of Alianza PAIS, the party of Ecuador´s president Rafael Correa. Correa has spent a huge amount of political capital to support her. Was it worth it?
All surveys have Nebot leading Bonilla, but the margins differ. A poll published February 4 showed Nebot with 42% to 34% for Bonilla (two other candidates are in the race). Another poll published February 18 shows a margin for Nebot of 52%-31%.
A 10% margin always appears insurmountable. But appearances can be deceiving. 925,000 people voted in the 2009 Guayaquil mayoral election. 10% of 925,000 = 92,500. To achieve a tie the underdog needs only to switch one half of 92,500, or 46,250. More people live in Pine Bluff, Arkansas.
Candidates like Nebot all have one distinguishing trait: everybody alive on their turf knows who they are. You either (a) like Nebot or (b) dislike him. When you see percentages in the low 50s -- or worse -- for such politicians, one conclusion follows: they are ready to fall. After many years in public office, any improvement in their popularity with the voters is difficult to achieve. If that popularity has problems, a small push and they go down for the count. But, the push must be made. Otherwise...
Why do I think Nebot can be had?
I have watched him for years. On a conscious level he definitely, truly, absolutely wants to win on Sunday. Unconsciously, however, an equal and opposite desire exists. Nebot wants to call it quits, go home, be with his family. Look in his eyes; listen to his tone of voice. He is mechanically making gestures, going through the motions. After a life in politics, he is tired, if not fed up.
Behind Nebot´s ambivalent emotions lurks the dead hand of the past: Febres-Cordero.
Nebot is a man who knows where the bodies are buried. Around the clock, unconscious guilt is manifesting itself in its usual manner: self-sabotage. The most publicized incident occurred in December. Youthful protestors who organized a peaceful dance parody of Nebot were met with club-wielding city officials and their thugs. Ditto a university debate yesterday for which Nebot´s goons showed up but not Nebot; they attacked the crowd.
The problem with repression is, it doesn´t work. The thing repressed is never destroyed. Time and again it resurfaces, generating ever more puerile and violent repression. As for the men doing the repressing, thin skin is invariably a sign that unconscious forces are welling up, seizing control.
In the course of 20 years of political campaigns we customarily started out short of manpower, money, media coverage, everything. Even so, we fought and defeated incumbents who were a lot tougher than Nebot.
I will now amend that statement:
We did not defeat them. They self-destructed. We systematically stirred up unconscious archetypes which created opportunities for them to make miscalculations, misstatements, mistakes. They ended up fighting something a lot more powerful than us: themselves.
There is certainly more than one way to beat entrenched politicians like Nebot. For that matter, the polls could be wrong; given Nebot´s goon squads, a fear factor may be distorting the truth. All I can say is, I do not see Bonilla conducting the type of campaign I am familiar with and which I know works in such situations. She does not know how to throw the switch.
Besides lacking psychological jiu-jitsu, Bonilla´s campaign has a serious, perhaps fatal, image problem:
Although he is a spent fighter, Nebot is still on his feet. He is a capable administrator and projects an executive personality -- the sine qua non for any mayoral/gubernatorial/presidential candidate. Bonilla lacks executive presence. She is waging a sort of high school popularity contest which works better in non-executive branch races. It also works for info-commercials for collapsible ladders, home exercise machines, kitchen equipment, bras.
To top it off, Bonilla and Alianza PAIS made tactical mistakes -- big ones. Rolando Panchana, Correa´s handpicked governor of the province where Guayaquil is located, on February 12 denounced Nebot´s misallocation of $25,000 of funds raised in a 2007 telethon. We noted in a prior post ("Washington Craps Out in Caracas") that gotcha items are best released early -- not late -- in a campaign. Otherwise, the voters tend to write them off as last-minute mud balls.
* * *
The Quito mayor´s election also takes place Sunday.
The February 4th poll mentioned above showed incumbent mayor Augusto Barrera (Alianza PAIS) with 39% versus 28% for Mauricio Rodas, his principal opponent (six candidates are in the race). The real news, however, is a whopping 20% were undecided. As with Nebot in Guayaquil, everybody in Quito knows who Barrera is; they either like him or dislike him. In such cases, voters rarely switch directly from like to dislike or vice-versa; rather, they pass through the intermediate, "undecided" phase. Conclusion: the 20% undecideds are there for the taking by Rodas. No wonder President Correa is working overtime to help Barrera.
Rodas is in a situation comparable to what Romney faced in 2012. Our post of January 27, 2013 ("Obama Re-Election: Stumblin´ In") identified 7 million Obama voters in 2008 who stayed home in 2012. I was among them. Angry, betrayed, alienated, bored -- whatever the case, they were there for the taking by Mitt Romney. Incredibly, his pricey campaign advisors never figured out how to reach out and pick them up.
We noted the bottom line: "Obama was elected not so much by what he did as by what the other man did not do." Will the same be said of Augusto Barrera? We will know Sunday night.
As did Bonilla, Barrera made serious blunders. For starters, last week he held a 2 1/2-hour, one-on-one debate with Rodas. The wise tactic for a well-known incumbent is to agree to debate but to insist that all candidates in the race be invited. That way, not only is the major opponent deprived of an elevated "top contender" status, his words are lost in the clutter.
There is a third reason for a well-known incumbent to demand everyone or no one: an invitation to all candidates is more democratic.
Sidebar: luckily for Barrera, Rodas has not read the script for successful campaign dialogue.
"Happiness," "freedom," "justice": Rodas is saying more and more about less and less; eventually, he will say everything about nothing. In 1835, Tocqueville observed the same vaporous drift and offered this explanation:
Language in democratic nations is full of abstract words which one uses for all subjects, without attaching those words to any particular fact. Such abstractions enlarge and veil thought; they make expression faster and the idea less clear.
Men who inhabit democratic countries often have…vacillating thoughts; they need very large expressions to enclose them. Since they never know if the idea they express today will be true for the new situation confronting them tomorrow, they naturally acquire a taste for abstract terms. An abstract word is a box with a double bottom: one puts into it any idea one wants, and removes it without anyone noticing...
Men in democratic nations increase the number of such words, and…use them in their most abstract sense regardless of the subject, even when the discussion at hand has absolutely no need of them.*
How can an abstract word like freedom be made meaningful in a campaign?
The template for a winning campaign dialogue:
(1) Concrete particular facts are presented early. Example: one of my candidates running for re-election to the House of Representatives reminded voters in his announcement of candidacy that he had sponsored HB24, a law outlawing dog fights. Months later, the night before the election, he spoke of "basic human decency." Those three words resonated -- were truly meaningful -- with the voters because they had a solid and specific underpinning. My candidate won in a landslide.
(2) As the campaign progresses, a candidate´s discourse becomes more general, until
(3) the night before the election the most general statement possible is made: the important thing is not whom you vote for but that you vote.
* * *
Will Bonilla KO Nebot? Will Barrera fend off Rodas?
At stake is the political future of President Correa´s Alianza PAIS party. If both Correista candidates lose, The Big MO -- momentum -- which Correa has so brilliantly maintained since 2006, will sputter, slow, stall. Washington, which intensely dislikes Correa for his leftist views and independence, will jump for joy. Politicians not only in Ecuador but throughout Latin America who view Correa as a role model will start looking around for the Next Best Thing. Alianza PAIS will resemble last year´s bird nest.
Footnote. Regular readers of this blog know it offers viewpoints -- not advice.
What´s the difference?
Timing. Observations such as those offered above are always made too late to be used. In 24 hours, all campaigns officially end in Ecuador.
We will have more to say on the Ecuadorian elections when the official results are in.
*Ces mots abstraits qui remplissent les langues démocratiques, et dont on fait usage à tout propos sans les rattacher à aucun fait particulier, agrandissent et voilent la pensée ; ils rendent l’expression plus rapide et l’idée moins nette. […]
Les hommes qui habitent les pays démocratiques ont […] souvent des pensées vacillantes ; il leur faut des expressions très larges pour les renfermer. Comme ils ne savent jamais si l’idée qu’ils expriment aujourd’hui conviendra à la situation nouvelle qu’ils auront demain, ils conçoivent naturellement le goût des termes abstraits. Un mot abstrait est comme une boîte à double fond : on y met les idées que l’on désire, et on les en retire sans que personne le voie.
[…] [J]e dis seulement que la tendance des hommes, dans les temps d’égalité, est d’augmenter particulièrement le nombre des mots de cette espèce ; de les prendre toujours isolément dans leur acception la plus abstraite, et d’en faire usage à tout propos, lors même que le besoin du discours ne le requiert point. [My translation]
Alexis de Tocqueville, De La Démocratie en Amérique II, in Œuvres, Volume II, Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, Gallimard, Paris, 1992, p. 582. (I, XVI).