Former editor of the Buenos Aires Herald (1994-2007).
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Have you stopped to think who should and possibly could run the country? Or is the thought so unbearable that it is best filed away with Nightmares, close to Horoscopes. Not easy to answer is it? Each week I read a few columns (in the Buenos Aires Times certainly, of course), on occasions none at all, in the hope that something might happen while I’m not looking. Columnists often achieve considerable praise in their printed or media channels, to show that they have the right answers to significant issues that happened yesterday, which is not too difficult: nothing went well in their view, they were not consulted. Those circumstances are roughly the same as are going to go wrong today. So it is not easy to find people who offer fresh wisdom.
I was brought up, I might even dare to say educated, to trust in some measure the views expressed by leading public figures who wrote for papers that my father liked, hence they must have been good. More probably, it might not have been true. But at home up to three different newspapers were bought daily because they were relied on to offer coverage and comment on issues in style and content that was seen to be credible. Papers were clearly associated or identified with sections of society and offered the possibility of measured thought and sometimes even pointed to interesting candidates for the future. Well, you don’t have to believe that either. Anyway, it doesn’t happen any more.
The query came into conversation after somebody produced the reminder of an ancient passage in the BBC’s Yes, Minister (1980-84 and 1986-88) sitcom where a clueless politician shows his awareness of the political spectrum by rattling off the political identity and leanings of the daily papers and influence in England (the series was a major hit in India). It went something like this, “The Daily Mirror (Labour) readers thought they ran the country, The Guardian (Liberal later Labour) thought they ought to run the country, The Times ran the country, the Daily Mail (Conservative) was read by the wives of men who ran the country, The Financial Times (Conservative) readers owned the country, The Morning Star (Communist) thought the country should be run by another country, The Daily Telegraph (Conservative) readers thought Britain was already run by another country.” That only left out Rupert Murdoch’s hilarious and scandalous tabloid The Sun, with its topless Page 3 girls. The explanation of that rag came from the minister’s secretary who said, Sun readers “didn’t give a shit who ran the country as long as she had big tits.”
The inevitable next step was to venture thought of such political analysis applied to Buenos Aires. It was not easy. For example, Clarín is run and read by people who want to own Argentina, La Nación’s readers would like to see the country run by conservative landowners relevant to some distant social order, readers of Ámbito Financiero, the paper the late Julio Ramos started in 1976, are sure they know how to run the country, InfoBae readers feel they are best to lead the country, Página/12 readers are aghast that there are readers elsewhere who don’t see how important P/12 ideas are for the country, Perfil and its readers offer the idea that measured commentary is essential to manage their country, and Crónica readers (who as those of the New York Post at one time were offered something like the Sun’s Page 3 girls, but a little more covered) feel that the only formula ahead is to treble their wages, upgrade their cars, and be provided with full comforts in the workplace – if there are any jobs left by the time this policy is proclaimed feasible. This is not to be seen as an idyllic solution but as an arrangement to make the poor rich and the rich poor, and thus rearrange the nation’s imbalance. And so on.
Unfortunately, that cross-selection does not offer a hint as to where we could find the men and women to run the country. People, in general, would not believe it because they are busy looking for something better. Politicians would be best excluded from any serious thought because they might believe the above social breakdown is feasible and argue that its inclusion in a campaign manifesto was advisable. A few would believe that.
Circumstances take us back to the beginning of this exercise. The question is who might run this country and get away with an outrageous set of policies. Ahead of us there are eight months of information that will be best remembered as the usual theatrical turmoil (which is fine because theatre is always real to us). The confusion will mix issues that could be broken down into three major areas, with a web of trailing strings.
First place in these three areas will be sports, in all manifestations and prospects. Second, weekly murders of youths, mainly young women, which keep television presenters employed and revelling in the gore as they pursue their pseudo-investigations. To the second place you might add the ongoing cash snatch trials of previous government functionaries: it’s not the corruption that counts rather the monetary figures that drive imaginations to picture what could be done with such sums. In third place, and way down the list because people are busy worrying about jobs and debts and how to solve matters at home, come the election campaigns in the smallest towns and the biggest cities, the candidates who don’t matter. Argentina’s failure will happen as usual. Politicians do not matter. Sometimes, not always, they offer the best Sunday social circus.