Information, over-information, but, above all, disinformation are inexhaustible sources of sudden and uncritical reflection. The more abundant it is, in a stage of physical confinement, where disruption is not only social and economic, but also sentimental, opinions flow with the speed of single thinking and with the lack of rigour of contrasting analysis. For this reason, and in the face of the variable mist of events and at a time when public activity is not at its best as a result of the process of professionalisation of politics, halfway between narcissism and adanism, it is appropriate to set out some necessary concepts on political communication in times of national calamity.
The first reflection regarding the response paradigm and reaction times is that public administrations were not prepared for a disaster of this scope and magnitude. Political communication had become routine under parameters of social and economic normality, with the incorporation of a certain silly aestheticism very much tied to the physical image. Aesthetics have displaced political ethics and, consequently, the diffusers and propagators of political parties have focused on the inanity of plasticism in the face of the focus of ideas. There is no doubt that the new political leaders have to be owners of certain patterns of beauty and physical appearance, beyond their professional preparation and experience.
In fact, we old-school politicians suffer from the syndrome of the political vacuum niche and tend to disdain as empty the new users of this art as battered as politics is. On the other hand, there are still scrupulous communication professionals who live only by giving their opinion on the movement of politicians’ hands or on the assertiveness of their expressions, without having the slightest knowledge of political concepts and ideas. Mediocrity is not only in the field of politics, unfortunately.
Secondly, the government has started from a correct principle of providing information through ministers and technicians, an aspect that should not be criticised at source. Furthermore, in states of isolation and closure, there cannot be an information blackout, because uncertainty, anguish and sanity are ultimately lost. In my opinion, however, the implementation of this strategy suffers from three very serious errors: firstly, the material sense of improvisation, lack of coordination, ignorance and insecurity conveyed by some ministers; the superimposition of a protective shield in the form of officials and technicians in order to dilute political responsibility; and, finally, the programmed control of media questions which is a democratic anomaly, especially when transparency is presumed.
The third analysis focuses on the phases of the crisis, and a good communication strategy must distinguish three major milestones, which have gone unnoticed by the government: the entry and start phase of the health crisis, the current phase of the crisis’ pugnacious development and, finally, the exit phase of the crisis. With regard to the entry phase, political communication was a cumulative error that ranged from denial of the seriousness of the crisis to minimising the risks associated with it. In this phase, logically, the Government knows that it has lost it, not only in terms of crisis management but also in terms of political communication of the crisis. Since it has lost it, it has reacted mendaciously through the treacherous procedure of putting the blame game on the line with its political rival.
When defense in politics becomes an attack on the enemy, there is no defense at all. Moreover, the official discourse is based on two categorically false assertions that blur self-responsibility: on the one hand, that the health crisis has been symmetrical throughout the world and, on the other hand, that there was no option to anticipate the problem, criticizing the opposition in what they have called, with little intellectual success, a “retrospective bias”. Well, neither at this sad time of the day is the pandemic symmetrical (Spain is the country with the highest number of deaths per million inhabitants in the world), nor can it be said that there was no mistake, as the Minister of the Interior has blatantly asserted. Politics is the art of anticipation, for better or for worse, and unfortunately, what is expected of politicians is that they have “anticipation bias”. Otherwise, the only asymmetry possible is that of the reasoning of the President of the Government himself, who, while he fails to be true in stating that the pandemic is internationally symmetrical, without intellectual modesty, claims instead that it is asymmetrical between Autonomous Communities. These fallacies, easily attacked intellectually, serve to create a morbid web of political confrontation at the service of gregarious and tribal merchants of argument.
In the present situation, the communication strategy is based on the insistence of the technical messages and on the follow-up of some media of the official doctrine. They act as distractors of responsibility and create an imaginary spectrum of collective pain that is intended to work also on the way out as a factor that discredits responsibility. Publicity turned into propaganda, discourse turned into an alibi. In this exercise, they try to identify Government and society, taking over the vigour and resistance of civil society, the same society they denounce with some of their recent economic policy decisions. They want to pass for being society, when they are Government, and therefore, holders of duties and prerogatives that must be correctly exercised.
In the knowledge that the crisis has overcome the Government, it is easy to warn, unless they have learned from their mistakes, that the communication strategy after the crisis will continue to consist of dispersing responsibility both in the present and in the past, and in shaping an emotional conglomerate of which they intend to be part as another piece of a society that has been and is in a position of resistance and ethics far above that of its executive. To this end, they will put into action all the media trumpetery and even some pseudo-cultural litter, which, by the way, has not been seen generally during the crisis. They clearly know that they are playing a game in terms of holding power, and that is why they will spare no effort in advancing along this path. Spain will be badly hurt by this crisis. Too much so. Let us do our best to heal the wounds and not to burst them.
Deputy Spokesperson of the Popular’s Parliamentary Group in the Congress of Deputies. Economic coordinator of the Popular’s Parliamentary Group. Member of the Popular Party for Huesca. Former Undersecretary of the Ministry of Development and former Secretary of State for Social Services and Equality.
State Comptroller and Auditor. State Tax Inspector. Academic.