For years now, erudite leftists, Peronists and others have been informing us that Mauricio Macri knows nothing about politics, an alleged handicap that has not prevented him from being one of Argentina’s most successful politicians ever, a man who, like Hipólito Yrigoyen and Juan Domingo Perón before him, almost single-handedly created a movement that quickly spread to every corner of the land. What his would-be detractors mean when they accuse him of crass ignorance is that he cares nothing for the ideological niceties that obsess many intellectuals.
These have much in common with the people the fourth-century cleric Gregory of Nyssa met while on a visit to Constantinople. “If you ask a man for change – he reported – he will give you a piece of philosophy concerning the Begotten and the Unbegotten; if you inquire into the price of a loaf, he replies ‘The Father is greater and the Son inferior’; or if you ask whether the bath is ready, the answer you receive is that the Son was made out of nothing”.
Members of Team Macri are convinced Argentines have grown tired of abstractions and would much prefer politicians to pay more attention to the practical matters, such as plumbing, transport, flood-control and housing, things that have been neglected for the best part of a century. So instead of spinning heart-warming narratives and polishing their speeches, they concentrate on public works. In an effort to counter what strikes them as a wicked bourgeois plot, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and her supporters have taken to bombarding them with ideological missiles, accusing them of embracing neoliberal heresies.
Such attacks have not had the desired effect. To the bewilderment of many, in last month’s primaries – an obligatory opinion poll designed to weed out minority candidates – Let’s Change (Cambiemos) did surprisingly well in the districts that have been hardest-hit by the prolonged economic drought, perhaps because voters understood that, despite the government’s many faults, Macri, María Eugenia Vidal and the rest of them are at least trying to make the living conditions of the poor better instead of feeding t h e m phoney statistics or berating the brainwashing journalists and soybean oligarchs they say want to hand the country over to money-grubbing vultures lurking up there in the north.
Throughout the world, ideologues, who almost by definition are left-wing, are in full retreat. They are losing because more and more people have noticed that the gap between what they propose, much of which is admirable, and what they actually achieve has already become an unbridgeable chasm. That is why in many countries those politicians, whether newcomers or recycled veterans, who say they want to “go back to basics,” are rapidly gaining ground.
Luckily for Argentina, the local example of the breed, Macri, is markedly benign in comparison with some of his counterparts in Europe or North America. Perhaps because, unlike them, he is leading a rebellion against an illiberal cultural establishment whose views owe much to the totalitarian traditions that caused a great deal of suffering in the societies that were unfortunate enough to fall under their sway.
When Macri beat Daniel Scioli in the 2015 runoff, Cristina decided that the electorate, bamboozled by right-wing propaganda, had made a foolish mistake but would shortly come to its senses and ask her to take charge again. That was why she refused to hand Macri the presidential regalia. Why should she if, as she evidently assumed, he had no right to move into the Pink House? Far-fetched as the notion that Macri is just a pretender like poor old Perkin Warbeck who would soon get his comeuppance may be, ever since that black day in December 2015, Cristina and her followers have behaved as though this really were the case.
They are still waiting for the citizenry to wake up and chase the usurper out. For them, the primary results were a very nasty surprise; encouraged by her tame pollsters, Cristina had expected to beat the virtually unknown and uncharismatic former Cabinet minister the government had put up against her by at least 10 percentage points, not just by the measly 0.21 points she was finally credited with. In a frantic effort to put things right, they and their current left-wing allies are insinuating that Macri made Santiago Maldonado, a latterday hippy who went missing in Patagonia after joining some protests on behalf of the Mapuches, “disappear”, thereby revealing himself to be, as they had always said, a dictator ready to crush the opposition using methods that were pioneered by Perón and then adopted by the military regime of 40-odd years ago.
If it leads to much more violence, that particular stratagem could backfire badly; many who are unmoved by the large-scale corruption that was the hallmark of the three Kirchnerite administrations fear that the former president would welcome the resumption of the “armed struggle” that was waged decades ago by terrorist organisations in the hope that the ensuing chaos would somehow help keep her out of jail. For those who dislike the idea of returning to the 1970s, that would be a step too far.
* Former editor of the Buenos Aires Herald. (1979-1986)