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Alejandro Llano, Professor of Philosophy, University of Navarra, Spain

Knowing how to govern

Tue, 16 Feb 2010 09:07:22 +0000 Published in La Gaceta (Madrid)

When one discovers that one finds oneself at the bottom of a hole, the first thing to do is to stop digging. It could be said, with a more academic terminology , that to rectify is for the wise. Wisdom internship is prudence, the virtue of a reason that continually corrects itself. Whoever does not know this, ignores almost everything about the art of governing. And this is, unfortunately, the case of President Zapatero. It is not that he does not want to or cannot: it is that he does not know.

He came to the presidency with hardly any government experience. And, as far as can be seen, he has not acquired it during the legislature and average. He has mastered tactics, the short dribble, but he is not even an apprentice in strategy. As he does not recognize his mistakes, which are already many, he has to resort to concealment ceremonies. Just recently we were informed, for example, that the pension plan sent to Brussels was only a simulation or a simple calculation! The reform of the labor market - on which many have been insisting since the beginning of the crisis - has gone from being something reactionary and dangerous to being the new and urgent solution for recovery. But even so, it has not gone beyond launching a trial balloon that has not resulted in anything concrete for the time being.

Davos was the magic mountain where Zapatero finally saw the light. But not with the lucidity of a Thomas Mann. In addition to confirming there that he is the only world leader who needs an earpiece in his ear to understand English, he learned that we are not precisely among the first in the ranking, but at the economic tail end of the G-20. His, or his team's, lack of foresight meant that he found himself flanked by the least desirable companions: those from two of the European countries hardest hit by the crisis, Greece and Latvia.

Even his advisor, the social democrat Nobel Prize winner Krugman, warned him that Spain was being more dangerous for the European Economics than the unmentionable Hellenic country. One of the greatest imprudences in which a ruler can incur is to surround himself with incapable people, so that they do not overshadow him. Zapatero does not have a team capable of preparing labor reform plans with a minimum of consistency. The only thing he has been able to present to public opinion, in order to stem the torrent of criticism coming even from his own party, has been a light narrative in which he reviews the least compromising possibilities on which unions and employers would eventually reach agreements. And even members of his government recognize that this is not enough to overcome the crisis.

One of the elementary procedures of good government is the periodic meeting with the closest collaborators who, in this case, are the ministers. But one learns that he goes months without having a single conversation with any of the members of his government at work . It is also elementary that those responsible for a decision have been consulted or, at least, previously informed. But Zapatero launches on his own frequent trial balloons that surprise the ministers of the sector. Then come the denials, the rectifications, the orders and counter-orders that generate confusion and disorder. This is no way to govern. The country ends up resenting it and the international opinion never ceases to take grade.

The disturbing thing about the Spanish status is that an impression of misgovernment is becoming generalized. Decisions are only made in controversial areas and, among the alternatives, the most ethically dissolving possibility is chosen in advance -and eventually imposed-: the expansion of abortion, radical secularism, manipulation of immigrants... Now they tell us that the problem lies in the fact that the Government does not succeed in explaining its decisions. And they do not realize that, if they were to reveal what is really happening, perhaps it would be worse. Because, for the moment, many of us are making an effort to give them the benefit of the doubt and not to extinguish the embers that are already extinguished. The citizenry is exaggerating its docility and tolerance. But even conformism has a limit. It is in everyone's interest that this red line is not crossed.

When a team loses a match by a landslide, the last and desperate resource of the coach and players is to blame the referee. The same is happening with the conspiracy theory, which until now the socialists themselves had attributed exclusively to the PP. Rajoy himself took the opportunity on television to ask if it was a Judeo-Masonic conspiracy, as in plenary session of the Executive Council Francoism. Neither the civil service examination nor the free opinions of the citizens are to blame for the Government's mistakes. Such an accusation is tantamount to killing the messenger. And, in a democracy such as ours, it is obligatory to publicly judge the Government's decisions. Airing problems and discussing them is the first step to solving them.