Opinion, by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – One of the best-known political sound bites in the U.S. is attributed to Harry S Truman: “if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” One of the best-known American folk songs has a refrain that goes “Someone’s in the kitchen with Dinah…strummin’ on the old banjo.”
The Curmudgeon submits that both of these kitchens are relevant to the Brazilian presidential elections, after last week’s performances by the candidates. We’ll start with Marina, still the favorite to wrest power from Dilma, who was seen weepily complaining to journalists about former President Lula, her once (and future?) mentor.
In Marina’s view, Lula has been saying some things about her which are most unbecoming, even though he always swore (said she) that he’d never be part of any personal criticism of her. Lula, for his part, said Marina had been inventing some untruthful things recently.
Dilma, who is as sharp on the uptake as she is when berating her 39 cabinet ministers, came back and said that if you don’t like personal criticism, you shouldn’t be running for President, because that’s what you’re going to get if elected. In other words: “if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.”
Perhaps Dilma is right — it may be that voters will not appreciate tears of bitterness over lost love, especially when it’s only politics as usual. After all, Maggie Thatcher never cried, Golda Meir never cried, Hillary Clinton never cries. Or, at least they never cried in public.
But perhaps Dilma is wrong — it may be that voters see Marina as embodying a kinder, gentler, more caring sort of President, and deem that preferable to Dilma’s image as a steely-hearted autocrat, incapable of empathy. Lula, after all, was occasionally lachrymose in public.
Whatever the eventual outcome of the election (the latest polls show Marina and Dilma running neck and neck) it seems pretty clear that “someone’s in the kitchen with Dinah … strumming on his old banjo.” That someone is former President Lula — ready to help either Dinah to withstand the heat.
At the moment, Lula is doggedly trying to rescue his anointed successor from an ignominious failure to be re-elected. At the same time, notwithstanding Marina’s tears, he’s been relatively civilized towards her, because he was her mentor, he’s the one who brought her to national prominence.
Lula can count on being the éminence grise, the power behind the throne, for he has the luxury of working with either of his protegé Dinahs. Either one will need him after the election. Neither of them is known to truckle or knuckle under to opposition, much less to suffer fools gladly. Therefore, neither is known as a coalition builder.
Sadly, in order to govern the Brazilian structural nightmare of 33 political parties, each with its own axe to grind, a President must be able to build a coalition. Lula was superb at that during his two terms.
So right now, Lula’s waiting, with his trusty old banjo, for Dinah (either Dinah) to join him in the heat of the kitchen.
Michael Royster, aka THE CURMUDGEON first saw Rio forty-plus years ago, fetched up on these shores exactly 36 years ago, still loves it, notwithstanding being a charter member of the most persecuted minority in (North) America today, the WASPs (google it!)(get over it!)