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St. Băsescu and negative politics

Arthur SUCIU

When Traian Băsescu told people that he will overcome the "wicked system," he obviously overlooked his being part of the system, that is, his own "wickedness." To convince us of the contrary, the new President underwent a transmutation, he experienced an odd form of conversion.

Thus, from the promising-though rather uncouth-populist, Băsescu turned overnight into a hero of Good Causes and an executioner posing as an intellectual. The Opposition tried in vain to shed light on the new President's inconsistencies, to slow down his spins so that we may have a better look at the man. It is as if a villain resolved to become a saint. On a smaller scale, Băsescu is a St. Augustine, a St. Paul of Romanian politics. The "weeping" act in Stolojan's withdrawal screenplay, in the 2004 presidential elections, may be the equivalent of this awesome conversion. 
Before being elected President, Traian Băsescu was against all the means currently used in view of reforming the political class. PNA (today's DNA) only obeyed political orders when it reopened the "Fleet" case involving Băsescu. He found the "moral reform," which required, among others, access to former Securitate files, to be pointless, and introduction of the uninominal voting to be demagogic. But once a Head of State, Traian Băsescu realised that all these are formidable weapons to counter political opponents.
 But unlike Augustine and Paul, Băsescu doesn't seem to be truly aware of his past "sins." Never in his breathtaking speeches has he repented before the people he is leading. What he does have is knowledge of the political class, of which he has been a part almost from the very beginning. Băsescu knows whom he is playing against from his own experience.
 Until 1996, when the political class was starkly divided into the good and the bad, people hoped that a change for the better was possible. This change seems to have failed during the CDR term in office, so in the 2000 elections political parties were all the same. It took an extraordinary negation effort and the use of aggressive metaphors, such as the "wicked system," for hope to be renewed. Representing much the same anti-system trend as PRM leader Corneliu Vadim Tudor did in the 2000 election, Traian Băsescu has been trying since 2004 to also take hold of the side of the Good, that is, of the right. Ambitious plans, we must admit! A significant representative of the "wicked system," Băsescu managed to convince the electorate that he is the main opponent of this system; a leader of a left-wing party, he stormed over the barriers raised by right-wing Talibans to become their newfound idol. No wonder his sentences and ordinances have the effect of court sentences and government ordinances. Whatever is "immoral" for Băsescu, is immoral for everybody; if the Head of State says the education system has collapsed, we can only agree. The situation is all the more comical-and complicated-as Bǎsescu generally speaks the truth.
 Hegel was wrong to claim that negation of negation results in reaffirmation. When denying Băsescu (who is the ultimate negation) nothing happens; it's pointless. This is what a lot of opportunists soon realised, with their devastating enthusiasm for the new star of the Romanian political arena. They are the ones who, by praising his every move, weaken his instincts and make him believe to be more than he actually is. My advice is to keep praising Băsescu until we get sick and tired. This is probably one of the few disenchantment methods.  
     In the destructuring process, the key player was obviously to get the lion's share. The doubling of the PD approval ratings is, above all, a right won by Traian Băsescu. He unscrewed his own party from the left side of politics and fastened it on the right, in his first major destructuring move. The second was to divide PNL, which was in fact an attempt to take away from the Liberals that which traditionally and ideologically belonged to them, i.e. the concept of "right wing." Traian Băsescu has known all along that the right wing was not his, but he had no choice but to sacrifice the Liberals.
 In the new political context, being right-wing is important, but not enough. Only a dominant right-wing party may truly represent the future of politics in Romania. Since the dominant party was PSD, this party also had to be sacrificed, divided, warped beyond recognition. In this respect, PSD president Mircea Geoană, with his strange instability, was the perfect tool, much more efficient than the prosecution procedures initiated against PSD leaders; Bǎsescu owes the PSD decline to Geoană rather than to Daniel Morar, who only deepened the line between the reformed and the reformers.
 Talks about the reform of the political class go back to 1990, i.e. before a political class was even established. But never has the political class been subject to so much pressure as it has been over the past three years; the effect should be a radical change and renewal. Destructuring forces gain ground and affect the governing, the legislative process and relationships within parties. Most of the civil society supports this endeavour. The public have not yet expressed a position on such radical reform plans, at least not in voting; but if we look at opinion polls, the move does seem legitimate. Apart from the quasi-permanent will for reform, we see today more than ever before a formidable negative will. Reforming means more than replacing obsolete individuals; it is changing the management, the patterns of political party management, of relations between parties and their electorate, of relations between parties and, lastly, of the political system. Indeed, restructuring seems to have reached the very rules of the democratic system. This trans-political force operates rather undemocratically, but it tends to change the very foundations of the political system, in the name of a better, more balanced democracy. But is such an endeavour feasible?
 In order to regard a destructuring force as useful, we need to admit that it comes into the Romanian political life from some self-legitimising transcendence of "the Good." It is the kind of reasoning which parallels Plato's question about the best government form. Leaders are good because they have access to the Higher Good. But with this, we are very far from the scepticism on which democracy is built. In the democratic framework, as Karl Popper argues, we primarily seek to avoid the evil that leaders may cause, rather than to create some ideal political world in the name of which we are willing to allow highly motivated individuals to act freely.
 But the current situation is probably more complex, having little to do with Plato's ideals. The force mentioned above works for a subjective good, and therefore operates arbitrarily. Thus, while the very system is challenged, structures from the old system seem to be supported because they are perceived as representing the Good. The criteria behind choices remain unknown; after all, they are political, and as such they don't hold. Added to these is the excessive attention paid to the people's emotions rather than to individual reasoning. The Good, as we can see, is far from being forcibly imposed. The society has enough resources of hatred for the political class, which is why the dismantling of this class is eagerly invited. The civil society, which has long felt despised, is looking forward to its revenge. Much of this project to reinstate the Good originated in the civil society and would have been unconceivable without it. The civil society undertook to safeguard the Good, and forgot all about protecting us from Evil. But this unnatural revulsion with the political class may eventually amount to a failure: not only for the political class, but also for the civil society and, at the end of the day, a failure for us all.

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