For Chavismo, the Real Issue in September is the Unemployed…

Chávez or Uribe-Bush? That, in the chavista playbook, is the issue…

It’s clear now that, from a framing point of view, Uribe’s decision to go all Last-of-the-Mohicans on us has been a godsend to chavismo. In speech after speech, chavistas have made it clear: the framing, from here on out, is "la patria versus el imperio."

And who can blame them? What else could they run on? Are they going to run on, y’know, their achievements? On the improved safety on the streets? The thriving misiones? The great strides they’re making against inflation and shortages? Right.

For an incumbent, it’s just a nightmare trying to run a campaign in the middle of a stagflationary spiral. Their best shot – their only shot – in these circumstances is to polarize, to scaremonger, to make this a tribal, visceral, us-vs.-them thing. And the threat-from-without shtick…well, it works.

There is, of course, the little inconvenience of how the two most readily demonizable figureheads of empire don’t, y’know, actually run their countries anymore. And it is, to be sure, an inconvenience that Colombia’s new president is now pretty openly trying to engineer a rapprochement with Venezuela. 

The remarkable thing is that, from where I sit, Chávez appears to be willing to accept some of Santos’s entreaties. Throughout the latest crisis, he’s been rather conspcuously careful  to distinguish between the outgoing and incoming presidents. All of which suggests that Chávez could be planning both to continue to demonize Colombia as a tool of empire and to pursue a diplomatic rapprochement with the Santos administration at the same time. 

Obviously, in a country with something like a free and skeptical press, this kind of blatantly self-contradictory strategy would be challenging to pull off. But in Venezuela’s increasingly controlled media space, with all radio and virtually all TV cowed into curlicues of self-censorship, the terrifying thing is that he might do it without anybody really calling him on it.

To some extent, this kind of schizophrenic framing is already being used. Notice how Chávez barely ever refers specifically to Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton anymore? The kind of highly personalized polarization strategy he was running against Bush and Condi Rice just isn’t credible against those two. But instead of abandoning it, what he’s done is render the discourse increasingly abstract, increasingly pointed at a nebulous concept of "empire" that he’s primed his audience to associate with Bush and Uribe’s brand of leadership.

And there’s no particular reason why he’d have to stop between now and September – running hard against the amorphous threat of imperialism and its Venezuelan lackeys all the while quietly mending fencing with what are still our number 1 and number 2 trading partners.