January 8, 2008

Obama, Chávez and the politics of change

Katy says: Here are some random musings on the fascinating, rapidly changing U.S. election.

1) The two best pieces on the election I have read recently are by Christopher Hitchens on Slate and Gloria Steinem in the New York Times. Hitchens is crazy and Steinem is an over-the-hill radical, but they are both making a lot of sense to me. Have I, too, gone bonkers?

2) I'm going to go out on a limb and predict that Obama will win New Hampshire, the nomination and the White House. He has tapped the current of change when the U.S. was ready it. Chavez, on the other hand, wanted to push radical changes through the country when the country felt things were going fine. The lesson is: don't push change too much when people don't want it, and push it relentlessly when people do. Tailoring your message to the mood of the electorate works.

3) What lessons does this hold for the upcoming regional elections in Venezuela? People want governance, they want solutions to their problems and they want somebody who is willing to work to make it happen. They want the inefficient chavista bureaucrats out, but they don't want Chávez himself to go. Candidates for governor and mayors should pledge to work *with* the government *for* the people, focusing on the specific needs of the people in their jurisdiction. Anything more radical than that would be seen as too dangerous, and pave the way for chavistas to hold on to their seats.

4) Opposition candidates lacking the backing of other opposition parties will be seen as divisive. They will not be able to make the case that they can work with the government if they can't show they can work with their natural allies. This is why some sort of unity agreement is needed.

5) Obama has said that he would be willing to meet with Chavez face-to-face, along with a list of other rogue ne'er-do-wells such as Iranian President Ahmadinejad. On another occassion, Obama called Chavez an "oil tyrant". Obama has supported the Cuban embargo but pledged to make it more flexible. However, his website does not mention Venezuela or Latin America, and on the rare times when he has talked about Latin America, his comments have been strikingly vague.

6) It's nice to see a candidate understand the power of words, charisma and symbols. It's troubling to see who this election's real kingmaker is.