Thursday, April 23, 2015

Today's Mexico City Headlines: Sure, the candidates have lousy reputations. But should they care? After all, this election is mostly not about candidates.

You have to wonder sometimes whether most of those pols out there on the campaign trail really mind their wretched reputations. Does it bother them at all that people think of them  as amoral privilege-seekers more interested in perks than policy?
    It makes sense for them not to care. After all, for many of them (most?) the rep is well-earned. And the rest surely know they’re not going to turn that thinking around before June 7. So why get worked up about it?
    More to the point, being perceived as a political gold-digger isn’t going to hurt your chances of winning. Not in this low-turnout, low-interest mid-term election.
    Some of the congressional candidates can’t lose anyway, by virtue of their high placement on their party’s at-large list. Those further down are counting on their party’s percentage of the overall vote to make it in. There’s not much they can do on their own.
    But here’s the thing. The regular candidates — the ones competing head to head in a district — are also at the mercy of their parties. Most of them, at any rate.
    That’s because lower house seats aren’t usually decided by one candidate out-proposing his or her rivals, or being more charming than they are, or personally outspending them. It’s a function of radio and television advertising, which is organized by the parties.
    These quick-hit spots are mostly substance-free. And they thrive in a galaxy far far away from the one where personal integrity matters. The media campaign that best implants itself in the frontal lobes of voters such that the right synapses fire in the voting booth is the one that will gain seats in San Lázaro on June 7.
    In other words, save for in a few gubernatorial races in interesting in-play states (Guerrero and Michoacán, for example), the candidates don’t matter much. Ergo, their miserable reputations are irrelevant, at last for electoral purposes.
    All that matters are the performances of the political mad men, who work for the only players in this game less respected than the candidates — the parties.
    Which brings us to where we’re supposed to be — looking at today’s headlines. Actually, we’ll start with yesterday’s lead head in EL Universal: “Only six of 122 borough chief candidates reveal their assets.”
    What’s going on here is that a number of civic organizations, and some local election authorities, have asked candidates to disclose information about themselves via special portals. The info sought varies from portal to portal— assets, income, career history, personal questionnaires and stands on issues, to name some.
    An optimistic take on this idea is that it gives the candidates a chance to cleanse perceptions and show that they’re the bigger person with nothing to hide. But that’s not what’s happening. As yesterday’s El Universal head indicates, the response has been underwhelming — not just in the DF, the subject of the El U story, but nationwide.
    The fact that only six of the 122 candidates — not even 5% — would share information about themselves with voters raises two questions immediately. One: Why in the world are 122 people running for borough chief in Mexico City? That’s almost eight per borough for a mostly administrative job.  (It’s not a rhetorical question; the answer is in the first paragraph above.)
    The other is of course, why won’t they share with us in this Facebook era? The answer is in the second paragraph above.
    Those aren't the answers they're giving, obviously. A lot are saying they just haven’t got around to it yet. Meanwhile, El Universal is having some fun. Today’s lead front-page headline: “Parties justify candidates’ opacity.”
    One of the odder excuses comes from the PRD’s DF leader, who explained that many of his party’s candidates are hesitant to make public such information as the name of their spouse or monetary figures for their earnings or assets “for security reasons.” Perhaps those candidates might consider a line of work other than public service.
    The biggest stretcher comes from the PRI DF leader, who like the others pointed out that the disclosure is voluntary and thus up to each individual candidate. “It’s not something the party can make them do,” he said.
    It’s hard to tell from a print story whether he said that with a straight face or not. Let’s just remember that this is the PRI we’re talking about, the ones who wrote the book on party discipline. One word from the right place and every PRI candidate from Baja to the Belize border is logging on to tell all. 

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