July 26, 2004

The Style is the Message

or, Despair over an opposition that doesn't seem to have learned anything at all...

From the National Accord for Social Justice and Democratic Peace:

La reconciliación es más que un acto político: es la expresión concreta de la unidad nacional en torno a un proyecto de nación. Por ello el centro de la acción del gobierno de unidad nacional que proponemos estará en la atención privilegiada de los sectores cuya integración a la sociedad ha sido obstaculizada por un inaceptable proceso de exclusión. Especial impulso se le dará a la aplicación de una política social que le permita a la gente desarrollar sus capacidades para incorporarse al trabajo productivo. Generación de empleo y seguridad social y ciudadana son indispensables para la paz. Para ello es imperativo la recuperación y expansión del sector productivo del país, tanto público como privado.

"Reconciliation is more than a political act: it is the concrete expression of national unity around a national project. Therefore the center of the action of the government of national unity that we propose shall be in the privileged attention to the sectors whose integration into society has been obstructed by an unacceptable process of exclusion. Special emphasis shall be given to the application of social policies that allow people to develop their capabilities to incorporate themselves into a productive working life. Generating employment and social and citizen security is indispensible to peace. To this end, the recouperation and expansion of the country's productive sector, both public and private, is imperative."

I have two things to say about this paragraph and the Accord in general.

1-I agree deeply with the content.
2-It doesn't matter that the content is right, because these days in Venezuela, the style is the message.

Go back to the original Spanish. Read it for style rather than substance. Notice the profussion of palabras domingueras, the convoluted sentence structure. Try to imagine you live in a barrio and dropped out of school in the fifth grade. Could you understand it? Is this document accessible to you?

The sad thing about the opposition's elitism is how unconscious opposition leaders are of it. Again and again they've tried to write synthetic accords to communicate with the poor, again and again they produce a document that's about the poor but, probably, incomprehensible to most poor people.

I hate to say it, but reading the document I was grasped by this bizarre urge to vote No, by this deep sense of anger at realizing how far out of the pot opposition leaders are pissing, how detached from the popular mind they are, how much they unwittingly confirm the chavista attacks against them. Six years on, the opposition still hasn't grasped even the basics of why Chavez has had such success in communicating with the poor majority. Six years on, the opposition still finds it vaguely embarrassing to put out a document written in Spanish that everyone can understand. Six years on, opposition leaders still haven't realized that you can't convince someone who doesn't understand the language you use, still hasn't realized that the majority of voters did not go to university. Six years on, the opposition still hasn't found a voice most people can understand.

I read this accord and, frankly, it makes me scared. It makes me scared not just because it suggests the opposition could lose - but also because of what might happen if it wins.

The opposition vows to fight social exclusion, but it does so using a language that excludes the socially excluded.

This is the drama at the center of the opposition's Communication Gap - six years on, we still haven't realized that excluded Venezuelans resent their symbolic (/linguistic) exclusion as much as their economic exclusion. They resent having to listen to politicos who use words they can't understand as much as they resent not having enough to eat. And they will continue to vote for Chavez in their millions not because he has mitigated their economic exclusion (which he hasn't), but because he has ended their symbolic exclusion - their exclusion from being able to understand the language of power (/of the powerful).

Because Chavez talks to them, not about them. Because he works hard to speak in a way everyone can understand, in a way that makes everyone feel part of the audience, that makes everyone feel aludido.

Six years on, the leaders on our side still haven't learned the trick. Still they conceive of politics as a kind of game played by the elite and for the elite - or at least a game played using a language and a style accessible only to the elite. A document like this excludes the poor at the most basic level - at the level of making it impossible for them to even understand what the hell the opposition is even talking about, the meaning of the words and sentences we use.

And then, then we're baffled when chavistas say we want to go back to the old way of doing things.

It pains me to write it, folks, but on a symbolic level, they're on to something big.