2004 Redux

Buencamino writes political commentary for Action for Economic Reforms.  This article was published in Business Mirror January 17, 2007  edition, p. A6

Billy Esposo, the newspaper columnist, activist, and marketing expert, reminded the opposition that, “Brand Y isn’t sold by merely promoting an anti-Brand X sentiment. An anti-brand sentiment may drive consumers away from Brand X but that does not guarantee the sale of Brand Y. To capture the market, the promoters of Brand Y must convince the consumers on the reasons why they should switch to Brand Y.”  In short, it’s not enough to draw a moustache on Mrs. Gloria Arroyo’s picture; the opposition must also enhance its own image.

An effective political campaign involves the proper framing of candidates and issues. Here, with slight alterations, is part of what I wrote for Today on “framing” and the 2004 election.

Framing works with words and images to delineate conceptual parameters. The best example of framing is in war-related propaganda where the enemy is caricatured as the “other” who is ugly, evil, and subhuman. Rationalization and motivation for mass slaughter becomes easier when war is framed in those terms.

Framing is indispensable to politics as well. A successful candidate is someone who can impose his frame on an election.

Bill Clinton framed the 1992 US presidential election in just four words, “It’s the economy, stupid.” It was so effective Bush was forced into the defensive and, as the old maxim goes, “in politics, when you’re explaining you’re losing.”

Mrs. Arroyo’s 2004 campaign began with very little chances of winning. Unlike Clinton, she never found a silver bullet to use against her opponents. Still, in just a few short months her ratings turned around dramatically. One explanation for that could be that she gained the initiative over the framing of the election.

Mrs. Arroyo portrayed herself as well-educated, capable, hardworking, policy-oriented, and determined to win at all costs. And she was clever enough to fool the public she would play by the rules.

She gained a couple of advantages to that self-portrait.  It allowed her to frame the election in terms of programs rather than personality, her weak point.  And she could take the high road, focusing on policy, governance, and leadership, and leave the low road, negative campaigning, to her subalterns. Two, her election frame was so boring the press shifted its attention to more exciting things like her opponents’ shortcomings and fumbles.

Raul Roco’s frame was “keeper of the EDSA II flame” or, to put it another way, the “good” GMA. In that election frame, he contrasted well against Fernando Poe’s qualifications and Panfilo Lacson’s reputation.

Mrs. Arroyo’s entry into the race replaced the original election frame with a new one featuring two GMAs, the “good” GMA, Roco, and the “winnable” GMA, Mrs. Arroyo. That frame lacked a clear differentiation between the “two GMAs” and that made it easier for many voters  to shift their support from the “good” GMA to the “winnable GMA”.  Roco’s failure to contrast himself with her allowed the fear factor against Poe to erode his base.

Roco could have kept his base if he had triangulated the election as a battle between the keeper of the EDSA II flame versus Jose Velarde’s friend (Poe) and Jose Pidal’s wife (Arroyo). But he did not. And he ended up running his platform of hope against scare tactics combined with government largesse.  He defaulted the frame battle and the lead to Mrs. Arroyo.

Inasmuch as Roco’s frame was vulnerable to Mrs. Arroyo’s, Fernando Poe’s was not.  And that’s why, in the end, Mrs. Arroyo had to resort to massive cheating to defeat Poe.

2007 will be a repeat of 2004 if the opposition is not careful.  Mrs. Arroyo is reframing the election as a battle between Erap and GMA.  That tactic could force a triangulation or the establishment of, at the minimum, a “third force” composed of candidates who are neither for Erap nor Mrs. Arroyo.

A triangulation will work in favor of Mrs. Arroyo. Fence-sitters could be elected if Mrs. Arroyo successfully combines the “fear factor”, an Erap restoration, with a platform of “staying the course” on her alleged outstanding economic performance.

Mrs. Arroyo’s spokesman, Ignacio Bunye, delivered the administration’s campaign line in one sentence, “We may have a long way to go to realize our dream but we are on the right track and we must push on without looking back.”

That campaign line grants, without admitting fault, that promises were not kept, “We may have a long way to go,” but it dangles hope that “the best is yet to come” with “we are on the right track.”  It dismisses all questions concerning Mrs. Arroyo’s legitimacy  and everything she has done to suppress any inquiry into the matter with “we must push on without looking back,” making “pushing on ” and living off OFW remittances synonymous.

The opposition cannot take victory for granted. Mrs. Arroyo’s gimmick of lumping all of them with Erap could scare away those who opposed her only after the Garci tapes came out and inflame cynicism among the undecided:  “Pare-pareho lang silang lahat”.   The undecided voter and those who are against both her and Erap will simply stay away from the polls. And that’s what Mrs. Arroyo wants.  Those who don’t vote against her candidates will be conceding the election to her.

To put it in Billy Esposo’s terms, people might just decide to stop brushing their teeth altogether instead of choosing between Brand “X” and brand “Y” toothpaste. And that, as we all know, will lead straight to Mike Arroyo’s dentures for the toothless masses program.

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