Who wrote Carme Chacón's ill-fated speech at the recent Socialist Party (PSOE) convention? Politics has to be freed from public relations and image advisors, who turn their clients into stereotypes and treat the public as idiots. Democracy is in a process of degradation, threatened by two styles which, though opposed, lead in the same direction: a resigned submission to powers alien to democracy, and an opportunistic populism aimed at exploiting the repressed malaise of society. Politics lives in fear, as if unaware of its authority.
The crisis has spawned a culture best defined as a constant state of emergency. The hammering reiteration of the idea that we are living in extraordinary circumstances (for which no one admits responsibility) that require exceptional solutions is very harmful to democracy. First, because the idea of exception always contains the idea of bending the rules of democracy, in the interests of the lesser evil. We have seen this in the means used to change governments in Greece and Italy, and in the German presumption to govern Europe as a protectorate, in contempt of the autonomy of democratic institutions.
Second, because the culture of exception breeds emergency measures, camouflaging masses of aggressive legislation that completely change the rules of the game. With the excuse of the crisis, the contractual conditions of workers are about to take a huge step backward. And the balances between the public and private sectors have been upset, as politics looks on in impotence.
Third, because exception establishes a certain hierarchy, subordinating all other political problems to the economy. This allows for a triple game: a reduction of the idea of wellbeing to the economic dimension; the postponement of uncomfortable political problems (design of the state, for example); and a cultural counter-reformation to cast society in a conservative mold, charged with religious conditioning. The ruling Popular Party (PP) is the vanguard of such a strategy: money, the flag and the cross.
Both of crisis Spain's prime ministers have moved within the parameters of exception. Zapatero, after his pratfall in May 2010. Rajoy, because his strategic plan is to accomplish without fuss the transformations being demanded from abroad. There are two ways to climb out of the crisis: letting the ship take the course marked by the dynamic of economics, or defining reasonable objectives that can bring society back into balance. Things will never again be as before the crisis, they tell us. But they don't tell us what it will actually be like, because the big dismantling job is best done without warning and prompted by the emergency. The road of proposals, which gives explicit meaning to present actions, has yet to be walked by any political leader. The farce of fashionable doctrine justifies a pinch now in the name of our grandchildren's future. This is not a political project; it has no sense at all.
A crisis can be an opportunity, provided we know which way we want to go. Some say that the culture of consumerism is breathing its last, and that people are no longer resigned to buying for buying's sake. Is the crisis, then, a chance to think of a post-consumer society? The world of internet offers new possibilities of interaction, cooperation and contribution. Yet Internet seems to attract more interest as an instrument of competition, radical individualism and the dissolution of community ties. Recovering politics means recovering the capacity to propose ambitious plans to the citizen, and to stop the process of regression that the right has set in motion. In opposition, the PSOE has an opportunity to propose a real process of reform that would limit the powers of professional guilds, and affect the relations between wealth and political power. This would probably be the best way to recover the lost electorate. The problem is how to believe in the PSOE, after the way they have been governing.