Obama and the shadow of Perón

Posted on May 30, 2009


Media-wise leaders in times of crisis

Media-wise leaders in times of crisis

This illustration was made a week before of Obama’s appointment of a new “Tsar” to overview over the Internet neutrality and privacy safety. It was for an article (in Spanish) about a bunch of political leaders who where successful in their approach to the media technologies in their times.

But I was thinking of drawing this duet as from a month ago, when ultraconservative pundit Rush Limbaugh bursted against Chrysler’s scheme as a “Barack Perón Argentinean-style takeover”. Despite the different approach to the GM case, it looks like this metaphor is bound to get on. Another publicist has just coined a brief of the indictment:

The truth is, the Obama administration is looking more like Peronists of Argentina in the 1950s than Democrats in a free society in America.  They nationalize what they can, and pay off the unions with the spoils.

Like any other political chicanery, this one grips from a superficial likeness as a weapon to conceal their own responsibilities on the present hard choices left to manage the mess. The likness are there though: both men were newcomers, coming from outside the political establishment, not reliable or subject to a burden of the past. They too came right after a long term of a riches-oriented, insensitive regimes and rose enthusiastic hope between a lot of people who where left deprived of any.

But differences of time and circumstances are overwhelming. Perón was a military man (an educated and brilliant one for the statistics) in an agricultural country recently industrialized out of forced isolationism caused by the Depression and the war. He nationalized public services (railroads, telephone, electricity, gas) whose European runners where under capitalized and prone to sell in exchange for their accumulated debt in food provided during the war. As Argentina lacked a private bourgeoisie capable to the task, the State took to it. For the working class (half of it of fresh peasant roots) it meant their opportunity to share a portion of the cake; the gate to modernity trough a paternalistic, regulated capitalism. For a short span it was an expansive, optimistic time loyally remembered until today. An agricultural crisis and financial shortage combined with the fast European reconstruction  put an end to this incipient industrial development.

On the other hand, Obama came to power in a Republican Empire who lacked any serious opposition power as from the end of the Cold War. As their Roman Republic counterpart before them, the American upper class indulged in complacency and non-productive expansionism. If something, Obama is trying to keep the shipwrecked boat afloat while replacing one rotten plank at a time. His weakest side, perhaps, is not realizing -as the reformists Gracchus brothers belatedly did- that powerful men who profited from the speculative frenzy, will not abide their privileges graciously. The battle will be long and implacable. To try to appease them will prove fruitless. But to protect jobs from the free market rules of bankruptcy against a bunch of bankers and vulture funds is his only hope to survive to an opposition strategy yet determined to throw him into a well.