“The Prince”, wrote Machiavelli, “ought to be slow to believe and to act, nor should he himself show fear, but proceed in a temperate manner with prudence and humanity, so that too much confidence may not make him incautious and too much distrust render him intolerable”. President Calderón is a decent, responsible, and serious person who has presided over a government in turbulent times without a clear sense of direction and with an enfeebled team. An old saying suggests that difficult times generate natural leaders; unfortunately for Mexico, this was not the case.
This six-year term of office began with turbulence and is ending in disorderly and even chaotic fashion. We owe Felipe Calderón for having impeded the destructive threat represented by a return to populism, but his government did not have clear objectives, a sense of direction or a well-thought strategy. Combating organized crime, a praiseworthy objective, is not a substitute for strategy nor can it be the cause of a government. Despite this, this presidential term concentrated on a sole objective at the cost of all others. The result is that the country finds itself reeling and, once more, expecting someone who is at least not worse. His failure can be gauged by the fact that the election was about those against the PRI versus those that were against Lopez Obrador. Calderondidn’tevenexist.
The decisive factor of the term has been the personality of the president himself: distrustful, obsessed with the PRI, incapable of recruiting professional personnel, he was content with a fundamentally mediocre –but supposedly loyal- team that little by little displaced –and inflicted harm on- the few public officials who excelled in capacity, as well as those who came aboard his project from outside the PAN sphere. Certain of understanding the Mexican with clairvoyance, he devoted himself to imitating, perhaps unconsciously, an old version of the PRIistpresidentialism, privileging the cult of personality above his administration’s performance. In the final analysis, his conduct was that of a PRIist but without the ability (and malice) of the latter and without leaving the nation in better conditions than those in which he found it.
If one characteristic defined the administration it was, indubitably, distrust, and at an overwhelming cost: he alienated his counterparts; he made it impossible to negotiate relevant legislative reforms; it meant the presence of opaque and incompetent functionaries; and was always characterized by a sick obsession to make everything and anything necessary in order to avoid the PRI’s winning the Presidencywhich, as he demonstrated this week, is his real nature. In this search, he undermined his own team, reigned despotic over his own party, ventured into alliances without rhyme or reason and, one by one, destroyed every vestige of an institutional order. Distrust of some translated into immoderate confidence in others who did not justify this with their capacity or maturity. His lack of understanding of power prompted him to be very decisive in some themes (above all those related with narcotrafficking) but detached and distant in others.
As occurs with all gamblers, President Calderón ended up with a bad deck. He associated himself with corrupt union leaders who never made good on their promises; he privileged conflict, rather than cooperation, with his only possible legislative ally; turned a blind eye to opportunities in fronts distinct from security –such as education, judiciary reform, and foreign policy-; and finally left in his wake unprecedented levels of violence and insecurity without a shimmer of resolution. In a word, he bet and lost.
Organized crime did not come into being with President Calderón. Rather, as a responsible person, he understood the magnitude of the challenge to the State represented by the criminal organizations and forged full steam ahead to combat these. His strategy can be arguable, but the fact of fighting such a brutal enemy is indisputable. The problem is that the strategy adopted has consequences and, on not having convinced the population of its need and potential benefits and on not having won their support from the start, when the violence began to ascend and the impact of criminality jarred Mexican families, the President was left with nothing.
Now that the sunset of his term approaches, the President continues to persist in his own obsessions, abandoning the historical legacy of the PAN comprised of the causes of the citizenry. Worse yet, paradox of paradoxes, as concerned of a PRI triumph as he was, he abandoned his party’s candidate and failed to construct an institutional and economic scaffolding to contribute to a more favorable electoral result. Instead of being a factor of unity, conciliation, and institutionality, the President has inclined toward conflict and animadversion. Instead of striving for his party to win the presidential race, he ended with the scenario that most obsessed him.
One PRI ex-governor says that it would be detrimental if his colleagues and those of the PRD were to underestimate the destructive capacity of Felipe Calderón when he persists in advancing his objectives, even if he leaves nothing after the fray. Given the election result, he placed himself in the worst possible position: as the example of what a president ought not to be and, thus, as the likely whipping boy of the incoming administration: to show a stark contrast. He bet against the PRI but did nothing to avert its victory. Calderon will end up as the PANist who made PRI’s return possible, as the reason for its recovery.
Presidents assume their mandate certain of possessing a universe of time to organize and transform the country. However, as their term advances, time runs out and very soon they find themselves in the home stretch. From the beginning and up to this moment, they try everything that occurs to them and some of these come out well. But when the final moment arrives, there is no longer any possibility of attempting new things. Time runs out and the typical question concerning the president’s legacy becomes irrelevant. The only thing left is to try to avoid a crisis and to come out as unscathed as possible.
His government’s liabilities are well known and it is not necessary to go into these here. But there are also assets that have not been exploited in good measure because all of attention has been focused on unachievable objectives. Instead of the antagonisms that tend to characterize him and that could easily turn him into the laughing stock of the next administration, it would be better for him to strengthen the assets that he did create, explaining the logic and strategy of the fight against organized crime and constructing agreements for the protection of the army.
Obsession, noted Norman Mailer, is the single most wasteful human activity. Obsessions with achieving something not in his power are futile and, worse yet, fraught with danger. Felipe Calderón ends like he started: without a project, without a party and without direction. The only thing that remains is to trust that the next administration thinks more about the future rather than attempting to rebuild the past because only then will he have something to be remembered by with bonhomie. Buttrustingisnot his thing.