Lesson from Argentina: Awaken the Lions
Javier Milei points to a better future for Latin America in the new era of populist politics.
Not speaking clearly may be the first problem of politics. It is much like the old axiom, often misattributed to Burke, that for evil to triumph it is only necessary for good men to do nothing. In much of the world, conservatism has been living in fear since the last century. In Latin America, social-communism remains a plague because too many of its nations are beaten down day after day by years of compliance, of life without freedom, of criminal inertia and “populist” mafias.
From Venezuela to Argentina, they have had no chance of standing up to the Bolivarian monster of the sickle, the coca leaf, and the hammer. Argentina, only recently so wealthy, should have been the exception, but it was not: because the fears and complexes of the right outweighed the inefficiency and larceny of the Kirchnerist left wing. And that is saying something.
But there is light. A light that brings with it lessons for any country that aspires to live in freedom. It comes from a disheveled-looking guy, with a hint of old rock star in his expression, thoroughly unashamed. He is an economist and lecturer; his name is Javier Milei. He shouts like an angry bear, and he is a political outsider who decided a year ago that he would run as candidate for the Argentine national congress for the City of Buenos Aires.
Milei’s most repeated catchphrase during this summer’s campaign, unprecedentedly harsh against Kirchnerism and cultural Marxism, is a bombshell that resounds throughout the country: “I did not come to lead lambs, I came to awaken lions”.
And it has awakened them. Last September 12, in the open, simultaneous, and mandatory primary elections (PASO by its acronym in Spanish), Kirchnerism suffered a painful electoral fiasco in the ever decisive city of Buenos Aires, with 24.66 percent of the votes, while the moderate former President Macri’s Juntos por el Cambio (Together for Change) grew to 28.19 percent, and, against all odds, the newcomer Milei’s party La Libertad Avanza (Freedom Advances) became the third most voted force with 13.66 percent of the vote. Between now and the next elections, Milei has a vast field in which to grow, continuing his trend of the last few months.
The primary result is a symptom of something larger, not just an anecdote. Milei has been the most mentioned politician on the social networks; he has pulverized all the audiences during the campaign; and with his vehemence and casual style he has enticed a growing crowd of young voters to whom never before had anyone spoken to so outrightly against socialism, communism, and what Milei calls the “political caste.”
“We are going to overthrow the model that the political caste have defended,” he said at the closing of the campaign, “as all it has achieved is to turn the richest country in the world into one of the poorest countries in the world.” He has repeatedly hollered from half the stages in Argentina: There is not a single leftist model that offers good results, because “everywhere they have been applied, it has brought economic, social, and cultural disaster.” It may seem like stating the obvious to say this in Argentina. But Milei does not just state it, he screams it with his eyes bulging out of their sockets.
Dozens of headlines can be extracted from any of his speeches. “We, who love liberalism,” he said a few days ago, “operate on the basis of unrestricted respect for the life projects of others, based on life, property, and freedom. The others claimed that they loved the poor, but they multiplied them.” At the end of the day, he makes no secret of his one-hundred-percent liberal recipe for pulling nations out of the abyss of poverty.
His political cookbook is that of the Austrian School, but that has not prevented him from combining his pro-gun and pro-drug legalization views with his rejection of abortion. Not long ago, he declared: “I am a Catholic. And in my values violence and theft are wrong.” Although, if the truth be told, these words were tweeted in diatribe against the Social Doctrine of the Church with another Catholic on Twitter, who replied to him saying “ok, then we Catholics cannot follow your theories, thanks for clarifying it.” And Milei, not one to keep quiet, added: “Excuse me. I am a Catholic. If you endorse the theft and the curtailment of freedom, that’s your problem.” Agreed. He is not good at making friends.
Milei is often accused of using excessive language. But more than verbal excess, it is really the Argentine left’s shock at Milei’s way of saying things to its face. Up to now, the monopoly on being offensive has been held by the left, but this rock and roll economist will not be dancing to their tune. Towards the end of his campaign he referred to this issue: “Some politicians have accused us of being dangerous. And of course we are dangerous! We are dangerous for those thieving politicians, useless parasites of this country!”
In the heat of debate, and when two Argentines argue about anything, that heat can melt the ice caps, Milei has been known to blurt out comments that come back to haunt him. Among the milder ones that can be repeated, he called the mayor of Buenos Aires a “filthy worm” and the Peronist president Alberto Fernandez a “tyrant” and “traitor.” But even in his somewhat crude way of doing politics—perhaps the only one that is effective today in Latin America—Milei has a good sense of timing, humor, and common sense, aware that he is growing a gathering of very young, true rock fans, who buy up all of his merchandising at every rally, who fill the social networks with his videos, and who repeat his slogans of freedom and against socialism with a strength and youthfulness that keeps Kirchner’s Peronists and Macri’s moderate and self-conscious acolytes scared to death.
It is true, yes. Subtlety is not one of his virtues: “I have come to break the system, I come to end the status quo, I come to kick these criminals out.” But perhaps there is a lesson to be learned here for us conservatives. If not in the literalness of his words, then in the firmness of his principles. Milei can speak this way because he knows that freedom is more effective and fairer than the thousand postmodern variants of communism, and he will defend it to the death regardless of the outcome. Courage has always awakened sleeping lions.
Itxu Díaz is a Spanish journalist, political satirist, and author. He is a contributor to The Daily Beast, The Daily Caller, National Review, The American Conservative, the American Spectator, and Diario Las Américas in the United States, and a columnist for several Spanish magazines and newspapers. He was also an advisor to the Ministry for Education, Culture and Sports in Spain. Follow him on Twitter at @itxudiaz or visit his website www.itxudiaz.com.