October 25, 2005

When opposition is not Opposition

A lot of Opposition supporters are extremely frustrated by the NiNi position. I've come to think the heart of the problem is a misunderstanding about the word "opposition."

There are two ways to understand the word in a political context, and the subtle difference between the two has given rise to endless misunderstanding...

Princeton WordNet renders them as:

  • opposition (n) : a body of people united in opposing something

  • Opposition (n) : the major political party opposed to the party in office and prepared to replace it if elected (e.g. "Her Majesty's loyal opposition")

  • The first definition is generic: anyone who disagrees with something is in opposition to it. In English, at least, this generic meaning is conveyed by writing it with a little "o". The second meaning - often capitalized in English - is specific: the Opposition is the particular set of parties and leaders that leads the opposition to the government.

    (I didn't know this rule of capitalization - so I haven't been using it consistently in my last few posts - but it's quite useful, so I'll adopt it.)

    The point about NiNis is that they are in opposition but not in Opposition.

    When pollsters ask NiNis "are you part of the opposition?" what NiNis hear is "are you part of the Opposition?" They interpret it specifically, not generically.

    Not surprisingly, they say no. The word brings to mind the old Coordinadora Democratica, what I've been calling the Traditional Opposition - and the one thing NiNis are agreed on is that they hate the Traditional Opposition. They reject its radicalism, its Chavez fixation, its obsession with incomprehensible detail, its negativism...they have lots and lots of perfectly good reasons to be upset with the Opposition .

    But Opposition supporters usually think of the word generically - and so they can't fathom how anyone who is opposed to Chavez could possibly be a NiNi in good faith.

    This, I think, is the reason so many Opposition supporters get so frustrated with opposition-minded NiNis. "If you oppose the government," they say in exasperation, "then - by definition - you must be part of the opposition! Otherwise you're either a fence-sitter, an opportunist or an idiot!"

    "Not at all!" reply the NiNis, "we don't have to be in the Opposition to be opposed to Chavez!"

    Thing is: they're talking about subtly different things, but this isn't immediately apparent. So the misunderstanding drags on and on and on...

    What the polling data show, though, is that the Opposition has lost the support of large chunks of the opposition. My last few posts just express my anger at the Opposition's inability to grasp this, and its unwillingness take drastic action to reverse the trend.

    If the Traditional Opposition doesn't realize it has to change to win back the opposition, then the opposition will have to find a way to form a New Opposition - one embodying the message of optimism and renewal they constantly tell the pollsters they are hungry for.