August 1, 2008

You like him, you really like him!

Juan Cristobal says: - Yon Goicoechea is the political leader you rate most favorably. What can we make of this? Why doesn’t it sit right with me?

For the past 24 hours I've been trying to put my finger on why I find it hard to simply drink the Kool-Aid and jump on the bandwagon. It has to do with the fact that, before yesterday, I hadn't really listened to Goicoechea closely. So I decided to spend some quality time with Yon, courtesy of YouTube.

I declare myself unimpressed.

Let me start with the positives. He has the gift of gab, no question. He's personable, young, untainted, brave and appears to be a smart guy. All that is great. All that is what made me rate him "somewhat favorable" in my own poll (I went back and checked).

So what’s the problem?

Well, lets start with his speech at the Cato Institute, on receiving that Milton Friedman Award.

This was probably the highest-profile speech Yon had ever given, and he winged it. He spoke off the cuff in an unrehearsed speech. His performance was all over the place, ranging from awkwardly sappy (0'20"-0'40") to over-the-top (2'05") to talking like a beauty queen (5'16") to bits of far-right rhetoric (6'40"). It was so scattered, it almost gave me whiplash.

Don't get me wrong, it's OK for someone giving a speech to splash it with whimsy, sugar-coat his intro and spray it with a dash of humanity in the course of six or seven minutes. But it's tricky. It takes special talent and lots of practice. Only a speaker who knows who she is and has a clear idea of what she wants to say can pull something like that off. To do so, you need a core message that's so solid, that you're so comfortable with, you can dabble with sudden changes in tone without making the package jarring.

This was not the case with Yon. This was the biggest speech of his life, an acceptance speech for an award for $500,000, in front of influential members of the international community, a black-tie event at the Waldorf Astoria... and he blew it. He came across as an affable lightweight, as a kid who is running for student President, as a 23-year old undergrad with big dreams who doesn't yet know his place in the world.

In other words, he came across as himself. But he did not come across as the leader of a generation, as the factor that made the difference in December's Referendum.

But why should I care? Why is it an issue, aside from the fact that my readers really like this guy?

Well, because in a way, he was there representing me, you, and everyone who worked hard for that 2D result. All of us: those who stood in line, those who marched, those who got tear-gassed, those who got beaten up, and yes, those who blogged constantly - we all helped. But he's the one being annointed with the award, an award he would not have received had we all not won on December 2nd. He was up there receiving it not only on behalf of the student movement he so bravely helped lead, but of all Venezuelans who fought against the Constitutional Reform.

So, I dunno, he could have written a speech, y'know? Instead he came across as someone who had just unexpectedly won an Oscar. I kept expecting an orchestra to interrupt him...

Before you say anything, I accept the possibility that, yes, perhaps I'm being petty. After all, this boils down to form, right? What about the substance? Has he really thought about the issues?

I'm sorry, but I don't see any evidence of that either, and what little I see I'm not liking too much either.

In previous comments I characterized Goicoechea as "right-wing," and some of you took issue with that label. That's understandable. Those of you who rate him "Very favorably" or "My favorite" tend to be either moderates or center-left, as this cross-section of our poll suggests.

In spite of your own views, you feel tremendously excited about a guy whose main message (at least on this stage) was that poor people "don't have to be cared by the government but that they have to be left alone by the government."

Think about it, the guy’s main policy idea is that the government has to leave poor people alone. This would be an extreme position anywhere…except, perhaps, at the Cato Institute. Do you think this will play in Parapara? Is this guy even electable?

Maybe he doesn't really believe that. Maybe it's just an off-the-cuff thing he said. But when you're in a position of leadership like he is, your words will be scrutinized, which is precisely what I've been trying to do. And the sincerity of his stream-of-consciousness speech at the Cato makes me conclude that this view represents one of his core beliefs.

Many of you, then, are really into this guy even though your views clash with his. It probably has to do with the fact that you haven't listened carefully enough. Perhaps you've only listened to his more famous quotes and nodded because, yes, you totally agree.

Like on December 2nd, when he got up in front of a microphone and said “today we close a chapter of Venezuelan history and begin a new era. December 2 will be remembered as the day on which Venezuelans took back our country from the brink of dictatorship, reaffirming our democratic values, our right to freedom, and our desire to live in peace.”

Or, at El Nacional, as he told you that “the future is not negotiable, we must not give up, the future isn’t for sale, it’s not negotiable, we cannot get worn out now, we have to fight and if I had to fight for ten years more, I would do so too! So long as there’s one dignified Venezuelan, one democratic Venezuelan, one Venezuelan who wants to live in democracy in Bolívar’s homeland, we must not let our guard down!”

Sure, when Yon is saying it, it sounds good. It takes transcribing it to realize that it’s basically indistinguishable from the kind of platitudinous, largely content-free stuff we hear from politicians in the opposition all the time. In fact, it sounds remarkably like stuff Hollywood was penning way back in the 30s and 40s, only not as good.

Who in their right mind could disagree with that stuff? Or does the rhetorical dearth in our opposition run so deep that someone pointing out the obvious in a clear, lucid way comes across as some kind of prophet?

Perhaps that's it. Perhaps he wins by comparison. Perhaps, as in so many other occassions, in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man rules.

Or perhaps I'm wrong. Perhaps Yon will grow into a mature political leader, and his ideas will ferment to match his already impressive oratorical skills. Perhaps sooner, rather than later, Yon will become that leader many say he will become and I will have to eat my words and vote for him.

Or perhaps... perhaps... we’re being played. Again.

Perhaps Yon is being used by the oppo powers-that-be. Perhaps they see him as the next big thing, as someone they can manipulate. Perhaps the guys who love to play king-makers have just found themselves a new king.

You don’t have to read much between the lines to wonder.

Check out the introduction he gets in this video (notice the choice of words from the anchorwoman in the first few seconds) from our friends at Globovisión. Watch him taking center stage at El Nacional, of all places, lecturing people who really should know better than to sit there enthralled. Spare a critical thought for the way Nitu Perez Osuna introduces fellow student Stalin González in this video and the drool-soaked follow-up question by Carla Angola.

Yon plays well on TV. Yon gets a lot of play on TV. Hmmmmm…