September 20, 2014
The long farewell
Many critics of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s state-of-the-nation address yesterday will dismiss it as the same old song and they would be both right and wrong. Right because it shared many of the flaws of its six predecessors — despite its inordinate length (although 167 minutes yesterday, as against 218 last year), it gave almost no blueprint for the future beyond shale-fuelled optimism and only the sketchiest outline of the agenda for Congress this year, devoting the bulk of the speech to self-congratulation for the past “won” decade. And yet there were not unimportant differences in both style and content.
Even if punctuated at regular intervals by swipes at various pet targets, a far more mellow style contrasted strongly with the “going for everything” spirit of last year’s reform of the judiciary (not entirely spared yesterday when she highlighted the poor productivity in many courts and the eternal income tax exemptions enjoyed by judges). One result was a change in tone toward some of the usual targets — perhaps most strikingly the United States (presented as a model for Argentina for reducing its energy dependence and also praised for its methods of channelling protest) and City Mayor Mauricio Macri (a consulting partner over the Villa Lugano squatter problem). With the big exception of the energy sector, the speech to Congress was strangely silent on the economy with only passing references to even the key price front — neither the post-devaluation problems nor their orthodox policy solutions fit comfortably into the presidential narrative. Yet the speech did hint at a more orthodox market approach — thus while proudly listing all her government’s social programmes, she retreated from the welfare state by insisting that the creation and protection of jobs ends poverty rather than such aid and she also made far more references (not always negative) to the outside world. Even more strikingly, she was fiercely critical of pickets. And while downpedalling the general economic uncertainty (highlighting the low unemployment figure of 6.4 percent but not January’s official inflation figure of 3.7 percent), she did not hush all tricky issues — thus both teachers’ pay and the controversial Iran agreement were aired.
The overall impression yesterday was of a lame-duck president more interested in her place in history than in starting epic wars — rabble-rousing was minimized yesterday despite an ultra-loyalist, if unusually disciplined gallery audience (the loudest applause was for the defence of Venezuelan democracy). Even if the “won decade” swept yesterday’s Oscars, we are clearly entering a new era as presidential rhetoric is starting to recognize.