Straight News, Smart Views|Friday, November 24, 2017

OPINION I Dark horses 

Conrado De Quiros

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Ronnie Zamora has an interesting thing to say about the electoral situation today. Only Jojo Binay and Mar Roxas are the serious presidential bets, the others are not. Including Alan Peter Cayetano whom he appears to be backing.

“In order to have a serious chance at winning the presidency,” he says, “one has to have funds, an organization or a party, and name recall. At this point, only Binay and Roxas have these, the rest are just pretenders.”

This reminded me of something I read some time ago about the way the US presidential elections have gone since the mid-1970s. Which was that all the presidents who came after the deposed Richard Nixon were people no one expected to become so.

Ford of course was just an accident, he happened to be next in line to Nixon, being the vice president. He subsequently lost to virtual unknown Jimmy Carter, a peanut farmer from Georgia turned politician, in 1976. Carter in turn lost to Ronald Reagan, who had lost to Ford in the Republican primaries, and whom Paul Newman dismissed as a bad actor who, if he won, would be a bad president. Lo and behold, he didn’t just win once, he won twice, and presided over the salad days of the United States in the 1980s.

He was followed by George Bush Sr. who, though Reagan’s vice president, was considered weak. He won after trailing Michael Dukakis for most of the campaign, but managed only one term. He lost to an equally virtual unknown, Arkansas governor, Bill Clinton, who savaged him with the line, “It’s the economy, stupid.” Clinton won a second term, ending with the highest end-of-office approval rating of any postwar US president.

Next was Bush Jr., who arguably became so only by performing a dagdag-bawas on Al Gore in Florida. And following him came the darkest horse of all, pun fully intended, Barack Obama.

Talk of the best-laid plots of mice and men oft going astray. Hilary Clinton beware.

Of course the dynamics of American elections are worlds apart from ours, but some comparisons are still worth noting. Not the least of them is that the same trend has been roughly true for us since Marcos.

Cory of course was not the product of elections, although elections might have had to do with it as well. A few weeks before the Edsa 1986 Revolution, there was the snap election, which didn’t just preface the Edsa Revolution but initiated it.

Fidel Ramos was not the wise-money bet, though he had the blessings of Cory. Ramon Mitra was. He had, as Zamora puts it, the funds, the organization, the party, and the name recall. But the more interesting candidate was Miriam Santiago who jumped into the fray with a ragtag band and nearly stole the elections. Of course, to this day, she believes it was Ramos who did steal the elections from her. Or Ronnie Puno did, with Ramos’ blessings.

Only Erap was widely expected to be president. You could see it looming from a mile away, Joe de Venecia’s funds, organization, party and name recall were no match to Erap’s appeal to the masa. Ironically, he would be the one president who would not finish his term by way of impeachment.

Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo had nothing to do with being elected. Like Ford, she inherited the presidency from Erap, unlike Ford she stole the presidency from Fernando Poe Jr.

And of course the most unexpected president of all, P-Noy.

What this suggests, in our case more than in the United States, is that while funds, organization and name recall are necessary to win the presidency, they are not sufficient. Indeed, what this suggests, in our case more than the United States, our elections  not being ruled by a two-party system, and given that the candidates of our dominant parties have uniformly lost, is that party may not even be necessary, let alone sufficient.

What seems to be the more decisive element in winning the presidency here is having a larger-than-life, or mythical, or heroic aura or storyline. It’s more than popularity, it lodges deeper in the psyche than popularity. Even Marcos had it, though that is another story altogether. Which stands to reason, our culture being steeped in myth and legend, our heroes being larger-than-life and savior figures.

Cory was clearly so, being the Joan of Arc of Philippine politics. Ramos was so as well, his identification with Edsa not just coming from Cory’s endorsement but from his participation in it. Even Miriam benefited from a heroic image, striding forth to slay the dragon of corruption. That was how the youth in particular saw her, as I learned from students asking me then why I wasn’t supporting her, she stood morally heads and shoulders above the rest. Who knows? Maybe she did win the elections.

Alas, all that is gone now replaced by the image of her driving out presumed hecklers on the gallery during Erap’s impeachment while she defended him to high heaven.

Erap was so also, courtesy of his movies. We are a culture too that isn’t always able to distinguish fantasy and reality, a thing Jinggoy Estrada and Bong Revilla have been trying to conscript to their cause. Only Gloria was not, although there was a larger-than-death quality too in her ability to corrupt everyone she met, like a Midas touch in reverse. In any case, she never really trusted in elections to get to, and keep, power.

And of course P-Noy was so.

I look at Binay and Roxas, and I don’t see that quality at all in the one or the other. The nail on the coffin for Binay could very well be that he is even now considering having Jinggoy as running mate. And Roxas is so characterless he is just banking on P-Noy’s blessings to see him through. Someone emerges who radiates a heroic resonance, preferably with funds, organization, party and name recall, and I don’t see why he, or she, can’t thunder past either one of them.

History is on her side.

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