It is very unlikely that one who has held all the power will be able to get used to having none. Nonetheless, it is the rule in democracy of taking turns in office. It is suitable to governments, at whatever level, and to parties. To exit from power at peace with oneself and with the world is even more unlikely. And more unlikely still is maintaining a discreet and prudent distance from those who are obliged to exercise it or are aspiring to do so. Countries of long-standing democratic tradition usually encode the behaviors of those who have held power and will never hold it again. The same thing does not occur with democracies that are still young, where sometimes we bump into those who have exited from power, who make regrettable and greatly uncomfortable scenes, even with their comrades-in-arms.
The article that José María Aznar just published in the Wall Street Journal, and that ABC translated into Spanish, is the prime example of an ex-president who has not learned to get out of the way and get used to the new role assigned to his life — neither with respect to his party nor with respect to the Spanish government and its president who, whether he likes it or not, is his government and his president. It would be wise of Azner to follow the example of his friend George W. Bush, model of discretion, generosity and gracefulness, as much in his relationship to President Obama as in respect to his party and its candidates.
Aznar is not wrong in his conclusion regarding the situation in Spain, which is what takes up the first third of the article and is summarized in his questioning: “How is it possible that in only a few years my country has gone from being the ‘economic miracle’ of Europe to turning into an ‘economic problem’?” But he has no doubt later when he comes up with the moment in which everything fell apart, which was the arrival of Zapatero to La Moncloa. As if he had nothing to do with neither an economic growth model long before 2004 nor with the cainist political drift that set up home in Spanish politics with its absolute majority. As if everything began to go astray the moment his providential hand let go of the reins.
It is an out and out lie that this date of 2004 meant the abandonment of “the process of modernization that society began more than 30 years ago.” It is a lie invented for Anglo readers that Zapatero “rejected the pact reflected in the 1978 Constitution and broke the State structure.” When he writes that “different regions of the country confronted one another,” he should claim responsibility for his personal efforts and those of the party to stoke the confrontation, including when he was in La Moncloa, organizing a war for water between tourism zones where needless construction was taking place on a large scale, the areas that needed the water for farming and the existing urban areas. Not to mention the boycott on cava or the collection of signatures to carry out an illegal referendum against the Catalan statute.
It is funny that Aznar criticizes “the arbitrary government interventions in the business world, with a flagrant contempt for the rules of the game, including the European ones.” His privatizations of public sector companies served to create a partisan business structure in the service of the government party. His interventionism in the television and soccer wars, including infringement upon European legislation, has been one of the most shameful of government interferences within the free market, in open contradiction with the so-called liberal ideas he preaches.
Few leaders have done more than José María Aznar to divide first the Spanish and later Europeans. Let us recall his letter of support to Bush and against the old Europe, identified with France and Germany, the night before the Iraq war (published, like this article, in the same conservative newspaper, property of Murdoch). Let us recall his use of antiterrorism as an antinationalist weapon. Without Aznar we would not have had Carod. Without the arrogance of the PP in its absolute majority, there would not have been a tripartite or a Tinell Pact. Were it not for those actions on the part of Aznar, the consequences he so criticizes would not have come home to roost.
Aznar reaches the heights of foolishness when he makes observations about weight loss and the relevance of Spain in the world. He goes so far as to blame Zapatero for the policies made by the PP. But the fact that he endorses the changes produced by the shift of power in the world goes beyond the sins of Zapatero, which are not few.
Aznar has a selective and fragile memory. His conservative and anti-Arab Zionism, unexpectedly rearing up as he left office, has made him forget the hugs and kisses with Arafat and the promises forced out of Bush that he would resolve the issue in Palestine. As his defense of the Unitarian Spain he aims to blot out his financial concessions to Cataluña and Basque country, his Catalan spoken in private or his words of recognition of “The National Basque Liberation Movement.” Nor does he remember his land and housing policies that, along with low interest rates, were the true reason for the housing bubble and the crisis. He has no recollection, naturally, of his numerous contributions to the public deficit, some by way of clever shadow toll formulas for public works, that serve to meet the criteria of the Maastricht Treaty and access the euro, but that have deferred the deficit effect to us in the present.
Aznar to some extent gets it right again in the last third of his article. There is far reaching agreement about some of the formulas that must be applied. And in fact, a good part of the things he preaches are now being done, albeit reluctantly, by the current government, which Aznar so detests. But there are two things that it is not doing, which the ex-president neither knows nor is able to do: To look first at its own yard, the autonomous communities and the large cities in debt and full of public officials where the PP governs and to recognize then the positive that is now being done on the part of everyone.
We have yet to get to the crux of the problem. What is with Aznar? Why do responsible politicians and adults do such strange things? What leads one to ruthlessly attack its own country from the pages of a foreign newspaper? Some believe he can resist his inner demons that drive him to put himself on the front page and steal the spotlight from Rajoy, even to make himself indispensable to his party, even considering a comeback. But it is possible that his attitude is not the result of a strategy but a more spontaneous personal situation.
Aznar is an advisor for News Corporation, the holding news agency of Rupert Murdoch, and he is constantly sought out as one of the most active and radical ultraconservative leaders in the world. He has a fanatical fan base in right wing North America and Israel. Each time he looks at the front row of seats and hears the olés that his extremist stances incite, he takes one more step to the right, albeit at the cost of denying his former ideas and policies. Furthermore, he considers the bad example of the tea party, the ultraconservative movement that acts as a driving force of U.S. Republicanism: He would love to play a similar role with respect to the PP.
There are three things that should be asked of ex-presidents: that they be humble, generous and discreet. In the case of Aznar, as I have already stated, he need only follow the example of his friend George. But furthermore, the Spanish ex-president should be asked, above all from his ranks: first, that he not get in the way of his party’s return to the government, and second, that he not prevent Rajoy from making a pact with the Catalans and the Basque nationalists, whom he will almost certainly need in the future.