All presidents believe themselves to be predestined to change the future and to leave a legacy of historic dimensions. However, very few, universally speaking, achieve this. The contradiction between the grandiose plans and ambitions with which they launch a governmental period and the poverty in this regard with which they tend to complete their presidential term is patent. Yet the cause of the contradiction is less clear.

Inevitably, initial plans quickly cross swords with the dogged reality, and the governmental period, which appears long on time at the beginning, soon becomes a maelstrom of daily problems that absorb those who govern in nearly fatal fashion, to the extent that perspective is lost and time evaporates. Abruptly, presidents are consumed with the end of the period, as well as with the legacy that they will leave or, at least, with the way their term-of-office will conclude. This moment becomes crucial: the grand objectives tarry behind, and only closing well is important. Regrettably, by then it is difficult to understand the difference between what is desirable and what is possible. What is necessary is to reflect upon being able to construct the best possible in the little time left, but that is not always easy and thus the risks mount.

The problem is generalized. No one would imagine that such ambitious and grandiloquent presidents such as Echeverría, Menem, Bush (W), or Salinas planned ahead to end up as poorly as they did. They ended up poorly because their plans were not realistic or because they lost contact with reality. They were all sure that they would have a happy ending, and did not anticipate further than their rhetoric. The reality ended up being another. The most incredible thing is that they did not even have the capacity to understand the effect that the circumstances would have on their own personal futures.

The reality ended up badly for many reasons, but the main one is dogmatism. Presidents cling to their plans and convictions and surround themselves with people who do nothing more than revere them. Adrián Lajous, the great functionary of other times, captured the essence well: “The president lives in isolation behind a five-meter wall. The chosen ones who enter the official residence of Los Pinos tend to arrive with racing pulse and bated breath. Many draw near the president with shoulders hunched and sweaty palms. The majority attempt to divine the president’s thoughts to say what he wishes to hear. They read in the press that the president is a genius. When presidents take leave of Los Pinos, doves are released for them, confetti is tossed at them, the National Anthem is played for them, and there is even a 21-gun salute in their honor. This degree of obsequiousness comes to distort even the most realistic vision”.

It is interesting that there are presidents who do conclude well, or reasonably well, a state of affairs that leads us to ask what is was that they did that was distinct. Part of the answer is undoubtedly involved with the personality of each individual. In Brazil, for example, Collor de Mello ended up very badly, while Cardoso pledged himself enthusiastically to the transformation of structures in order to construct a better country for the long term. Similar to Zedillo in Mexico, Cardoso ended up well, but both have grown in stature over time because they were more concerned about the future of their country than about their own. Both submitted the government to a party different from their own without necessarily having aimed at that. Independently of the grandeur or paucity of their achievements, their governments ended well for only one reason: because they did not hold fast to what had existed or to their own personal or party dogmas. In the case of Brazil, Lula continued to carry out the strategy initiated by Cardoso, affording the country enormous opportunities that it is currently reaping.

What coincides with those who have ended up with positive balances is that they followed a constructive logic and abandoned the proposal that their party or dauphin should safeguard the power; their logic was to advance substantive objectives that enhanced their worth down the road. They conquered the temptation for being their country’s president to serve partisan objectives and overcame their historical ill will and grievances with political adversaries: they made key decisions for the citizenry. In other words, successful presidents are those who procure a leadership capable of inspiring, but also of listening to and arousing confidence in, their interlocutors.

Those who end up well build up support and consensus around their projects while knowing how to adapt themselves and change course when the cart gets stuck. Neither of these is easy, and less so when circumstances are difficult. Clinton got his government under way with great projects but, when he was beaten in the midterm elections, immediately changed tack: had he stuck to his original strategy, he most probably would have wound up a one-term president. Master of pragmatism, Clinton understood that he had to veer off course; he ended up absconding with his opponents’ agenda and achieved exceptional economic and political success. His secret was to look toward the future instead of the next election.

We are at the threshold of the last third of President Calderón’s government. In view of the most recent electoral results, the tessitura could not be clearer or more ominous. The two years that remain of Calderóns six-year term could be either the beginning of a new era of transformation, or two very loooong years of paralysis, lusting after power, and conflict. As Einstein once said, it is madness to expect distinct results if one insists upon doing what has not worked.

President Calderón must decide whether he will do something different (I mean this about the political realm, not on drug policy), something susceptible to yielding better results in what is left of his term, or whether he will cling to the same team of persons and the very policies that have not elicited positive effects for his programs, his party, or himself. Avoiding a PRI win cannot be a governmental strategy, and its cost would be incommensurable.

Two years seem few, above all because they include the entire assemblage of presidential contest paraphernalia. However, there are many countries, such as Australia, where the governing period is nearly as short. Wasting this time on more of the same would constitute a true crime, in addition to harakiri for the president himself. The next two years in Mexico constitute the last-ditch opportunity to construct an institutionality that would allow us greater proximity to nations such as Chile, where alternation of parties in government does not translate into chaos or endless revenge. Better to force an institutional regime on the PRI than to attempt to impede its return, better to foil the perverse logic of reinventing the country every six years and bequeathing the government to one’s cronies.