Political Civility in Spain and the U.S.

Last night, I watched and listened to podcasts about the primary elections in the U.S. from NBC’s Meet the Press and ABC’s This Week. I was particularly impressed by the civility of U.S. politicians, pondits, and President Clinton himself in discussing the upcoming elections. For example, Newt Gingrich (Clinton’s former nemesis in the House of Representatives) called Bill Clinton the best politician of his generation. He also had good things to say about Hillary. Meanwhile, President Clinton had positive things to say about various Republican candidates. Even Pat Buchanan had a few nice words for Obama.

I got to thinking that in Spain, members of one party (and even journalists who associate with one party) will never say anything remotely positive about anyone from another party. There isn’t even a general notion of respect for former presidents. Then this morning I saw these two pieces of news:

1. For the second time, the Spanish national television station (TVE) which is run and controlled by the Partido Socialista Español has made an image feed mistake while running news about the Partido Popular opposition leader, Mariano Rajoy. The showed Rajoy speaking in congress and then switched to images of masked assailants (by mistake) before returning to face. Last year in February, a similar thing occurred. In a news piece on the torturing of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, they mistakeningly showed an image of Rajoy. Coincidence?

2. Also today, the Socialist government launched its publicity campaign for its new educational program to promote a new civics curriculum in all public schools. This is a great initiative. Children should be educated on how their government works. It is amazing that Spain did not already have this. I recall that in order to graduate from high school in Maryland when I was a kid that we had to pass a civics exam. We had to learn about the separation of powers, state and federal government, etc.

But instead of promoting this new program in a responsible way, the Socialists created a sketch that parodied a popular game show. So far so good, fine. Not so simple: the first contestant is a young females Socialist sympathizer who gives all the correct answers, is socially tolerant, and talks about people’s rights. The second one is a male pijo (preppie kid) and is obviously a charachature of the stereotypical young Partido Popular voter taking to its least attractive extreme. His answers are all machista, anti-women, backwards, and hateful.

The Socialist government has defended its video promo as being a great way to highlight the importance of the new program. Yes, the program is a good idea. But the result is to create greater inner party conflicts, crispación, and further divide the country on party lines.

Of course, the difference in political civility in Spain and the U.S. could be purely cultural. In the U.S., we like to see people discuss things rationally even with their counterparts. In Spain, I have yet to see any politician or journalist enjoy a discussion that was not utterly based in rhetoric alone.

Another factor is how the government actually functions. There is no fine distinction between the executive and legislative branches of government. When you vote for the president, you vote for the candidate and his defined list of congressman. You really don’t vote for representatives, but for parties. The parties get their pro-rata portion of the votes for seats in congress, and whichever pary has a majority gets the presidency. Therefore, there is no such thing as bi-partisan sponsored legislation between the major parties. In the U.S., to pass legislation, proponents of a bill must seek partnerships with members on the other side of the aisle. Americans therefore shun political gridlock, while Spaniards celebrate it.


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Filed under Essays, Living la vida española

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