Friday, July 22, 2005

A Short Discourse on Spanish Politics

We're now slightly more than a year into the Zapatero administration, and I think I know enough about what's going on to make a brief summary.

1) The Socialists are incompetent, but then we knew that. No matter how incompetent they are, however, there's a limit to how badly they can screw things up. First, Spain is still in the middle of a huge economic boom. Spain is Europe's Sunbelt. Good weather, comparatively cheap labor and land costs, educated workforce, tourist attractions, high-value agricultural exports, pretty good light industry and construction sectors. There's no way they can stop Spain from growing unless they do something dumb like renationalizing the phone company, which even the PSOE isn't going to do. Second, Spain is part of the EU for better or for worse, and I think generally for the better. What this means is there's a limit to what the government can do before Brussels calls it on the carpet and says the budget's out of whack or whatever.

2) The PSOE is weak on several fronts. The most important values held by the majority of Spaniards, and I don't mean hip Barcelona urbanites, are, more or less in this order: family, security, equality, solidarity, Spain as a nation, the Church. The PP has very intelligently been hammering on most of these issues. In about May they organized three large demonstrations. They were 1) against government negotiations with ETA, 2) against sending part of the Civil War archives to Salamanca, and 3) against gay marriage.

These demos were good for appealing to the PP's base voters. The problems that most people see with negotiating with ETA are a) why negotiate, they're losing and b) what they want is for their prisoners to be let out of jail. They'll compromise on everything else. Well, most Spaniards are against turning their prisoners loose, and the PP needs to keep hitting this issue hard. It appeals to the security and Spain values and also to family, as the PP has been successful in framing the ETA issue in the context of the victims of ETA terrorism and justice to them.

The Civil War archives issue is a red herring, completely meaningless. A big deal has been made over whether Catalan regional government papers from the Civil War archive should stay with the rest of the archive in Salamanca or be transferred to Catalonia. The Cataloonies made a big deal out of this, and the rest of Spain decided they were a bunch of jerks and this was a symbolic issue that was worth making a stand on. The Cataloonies have made themselves so unpopular everywhere else in the country that anything they're for, everyone else is automatically against. The PP does well in appealing to the Spain value.

As for gay marriage, a lot of people are against it. The PP again does well in appealing to the family and Church values.

Other issues I would hammer on are: Abortion. That's a major Church and family value, and the fact is the abortion law is regularly broken here. Abortion is only legal in Spain in case of rape, incest, an abnormal fetus, or danger to the woman's health. The problem is the abortion clinics will certify any abortion as necessary for the woman's health, so the law is regularly flouted. I would bring this issue up.

Immigration. It's unpopular, but we need at least some, and opposing it not only looks bad but is counterproductive in the long run. What we do is support immigration, but make a big deal about how we love the majority of immigrants who come here to work and to integrate themselves more or less into Spanish society. And we slam the hell out of the minority of immigrants who come here to do crimes, and we slam the Socialist administration for not deporting them. This way we look liberal for supporting the decent immigrants and tough for wanting to lock up the criminals. In fact, the crime issue is also always a root value. Everybody's for law and order, and there's way too much street crime now. Pound on both of these issues. Hard. Support mandatory prison for everyone who commits a violent crime. Appeal to the family values people by declaring we want to make this especially true for domestic abusers, which we of course would like to do.

Housing. That's seen as a major problem. It's not an emotional issue. What I would do is come up with some kind of housing plan that would make it easier and cheaper for municipalities to license housing starts and thus increase the supply. This is the issue you can use to show you're respectable and have a responsible program. Gotta appeal to the voters who imagine they don't vote on emotional issues.

Schools. They're going straight to hell and have been ever since the Socialist "reforma" of the mid-'90s. What pretty much everybody, especially the teachers, wants is to go back to the basics. This is a family and solidarity issue, and everybody's always in favor of the children. Run on a conservative education platform, promising to actually teach the kids to read and do math. That'll also look responsible. Support Church schools. That'll get them on your side, and besides they're generally better than the public schools. As far as religion classes in the public schools, make it look like it's a big deal that you'll compromise and allow it to be an optional subject rather than obligatory; in exchange demand that it count for the students' grade average. That ought to make everyone happy.

Islamist terrorism. Get a plan together right now for how we're going to deal with it when Al Qaeda bombs something else in Spain, which I'm afraid they will sometime before 2008. Islamist terrorism is one thing everybody's against. We should be able to blame it on the Socialists just like the Socialists blamed us for the last one. If for some reason it doesn't happen, which we all of course hope, then we just stow the plan and avoid the issue. If there is some kind of success by the government against terrorism, we credit the police, who are the ones who actually did the work in the first place.

AVOID a) foreign policy. Spain's anti-American. When the PP is challenged, profess no deep love for the Americans but stress it is necessary for Spain to be friendly with America as a practical matter. Call the Socialists incompetent but don't look like you're in bed with the gringos. b) the March 11 bombings. Stop refighting the past. That is actually the only thing the voters like about Zap. They supported the pullout from Iraq and they're not going to change their minds. Let the whole thing be swept under the rug. We lost that battle. Think about winning the next one. c) Bringing back memories of Aznar. He was an excellent prime minister, and also highly unpopular personally. Nobody liked him except us. Stop making a big deal about him. Don't disassociate ourselves from him, that would be wrong, but let's not intentionally bring him up. d) Getting bitter and angry at the Socialists. Yeah, we hate them, and we think they stole the last election from us unfairly, but the public does not like constant negativism. Let that slide.

EXCEPT: When the Socialists screw up massively in administration questions. The example is the furor over the oil tanker Prestige that sank off the Galician coast a couple of years ago. The Aznar administration had to make a quick decision and chose to tow the sinking tanker away from the coast, which might well have been the wrong choice, but it's rather unsporting to second-guess a crisis decision, which the PSOE did very successfully, as if it were the PP's fault the ship sank.

Well, we blast them on this. They've already had two major screwups, the subway tunnel in Barcelona that collapsed, leaving dozens of families homeless, and now the Guadalajara fire that killed eleven volunteer firemen. Second-guess the hell out of them on both these issues and don't let up. In fact, bring up the subway tunnel at every opportunity. This one is especially fun because the Socialists, in alliance with the Communists and ERC, have been running Barcelona since 1978 and anything that goes wrong can easily be blamed on them. As a matter of fact, I would bring up a third disaster, the Barcelona Forum, and hammer them with that, too.

Now. The next municipal and regional elections are in 2007 and the next national election is in 2008. That means we have plenty of time. We have the advantage that there is no responsible party on our right. In fact, I would intentionally make a big deal about totally disowning far-right movements like the Plataforma per Catalunya. We avoid being outflanked on the right by making it clear that anyone to our right is untrustworthy and undemocratic.

So strategy is to continue along with nailing down the right-wing base for at least the next year. Don't let up and hit them hard with the basic issues. Make sure all your core voters are going to come out. Then move toward the center and pick up the disgusted swing voters, of whom there will be plenty.

Part of our problem is image. Our least popular leaders are Acebes and Zaplana. They're attack dogs. Only the base likes them. Keep using them while we're still riding the right wing hard, since they keep the core voters fired up. But when we swing center sometime in 2007, get rid of them. Well, no, don't just kick them out, they've been loyal, but they have to drop out of sight for the campaign. Center voters hate these guys.

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