PJ Media: What were some of Zapatero´s biggest policy failures?
Guardia: Without question, the economy, which ultimately is what will bring his party down. First, Zapatero spent two years not only denying there was a crisis to begin with, but labeling anyone who suggested there was one as “antipatriotic” and eager to see the country hurt, and boasting against all evidence that Spain’s banking system was the world’s most solid. Which means he didn’t take any measure when doing so would have been relatively harmless. Then, when he finally recognized there was a crisis, he went fully Keynesian, believing that merely throwing money in half-baked plans with no accountability would change the situation by itself. He treated the financial crisis as some sort of natural catastrophe where you need to take palliative measures and clench your fists while you wait for the situation to get better on its own. So he failed to make real reforms and spent the budget’s “silver bullet” (at that time, public debt was relatively low) without success. Then in May of last year, when the debt was spiraling out of control, he had to follow the orders of the EU, Obama, and China to rein in the spending no matter what, which he did with the faith of the converted. But it was a day late and a dollar short.
There were also very important failures in foreign policy: the unilateral withdrawals from Kosovo and, particularly, Iraq; his approach to Europe which has driven Spain into irrelevancy; his coziness with non-commendable regimes such as Cuba, Venezuela, and even Iran. And on the home front, he didn’t match his self-described tolerant attitude, prone to dialogue, with facts. He pushed socially divisive policies (abortion, gay marriage) without reaching out to the other side, which a statesman needs to do even if that other side is wrong. He also reopened old wounds that were thought to be healed (the Civil War). As a result, the levels of political tension have been the highest since the transition to democracy after Franco’s death.
Kern: Zapatero will always be remembered for bringing Spain to the brink of economic collapse.
But Zapatero’s biggest failure has been his blind devotion to an insidious, leftist, post-modern, globalist political ideology (PJ Media article here) that fatally removed him (and millions of naïve Spanish voters) from reality and led his country to ruin.
Zapatero came to office thanks to Islamic terrorists who attacked Spain just days before the election in 2004. He interpreted his electoral victory as a mandate to turn Spain into the most socially left-wing country in Europe. Zapatero’s deep-seated hatred for the Roman Catholic Church led him to pursue social changes that have been so radical in scope and so rapid in execution that he has left Spain morally bankrupt. Moreover, his fierce antagonism to the Judeo-Christian roots of Western civilization led him to pursue a partnership with Islam that will have repercussions for generations to come.
Zapatero also introduced a post-modern political discourse that stubbornly refused to call reality as it is (PJ Media article here). The concomitant refusal to take responsibility, especially in the economic sphere, has left Spain in ruins.
On the foreign policy front, Zapatero has destroyed Spain’s credibility in international affairs. Zapatero abandoned Spain’s allies in places such as Iraq, Kosovo, Haiti, and elsewhere. He also realigned Spain’s key relationships away from the United States and toward Cuba, Iran, and Venezuela.
Senserrich: Labor market reform. The Spanish labor market is incredibly inefficient, burdened with complex regulations, a huge array of contracts, and exceptionally clumsy severance pay rules. The Socialist government seemingly understood this, and spent huge amounts of political capital negotiating a reform with the labor unions and business associations. Once the talks broke down, and with the looming threat of a general strike, Zapatero decided to try to appease the unions with very limited, completely harmless, deeply misguided reform. The unions went on strike anyway, so the government ended up taking a huge hit from the protest while failing to deliver any significant changes at the same time.
This was, sadly, a familiar pattern. The Socialist government has been surprisingly competent cutting the deficit, but they have consistently ended up watering down structural reforms when confronted with any significant opposition. Zapatero’s biggest falling has been to his unwillingness to tackle some of the most obvious structural deficiencies of the Spanish economy, while focusing on short-term cost cutting measures that are a result, not the origin, of the country´s economic woes.
PJ Media: Authors such as Mark Steyn and PJ Media’s own David P. Goldman have all but declared Europe dead, largely because of demographic trends. With Spain’s 1.2 fertility rate, is there any reason to be optimistic about the country’s long-term future — even if the PP wins a large parliamentary majority on Sunday?
Guardia: It’s always difficult to do that kind of long-term prognosis. And while the birth rates have been low for quite a few years, immigration (particularly from Latin America, with a shared language and cultural background and higher birth rates) has been providing “new blood.” Even Islamic immigrants have integrated themsevles fairly well, at least so far. And among nationals, pardon the pun, demographic trends can change in nine months, one couple at a time. What I mean is that if the economy starts to improve, and especially if people start realizing that the social security system will “give” them back much less than they paid for, they may start having more kids so that those kids can take care of them when they are old. Just like in the old days, in fact.
Kern: The biggest enemies of Spain are the Spaniards themselves and the biggest problems ailing Spain are not economic, but rather spiritual and cultural.
In the spiritual realm, most Spaniards have abandoned their Judeo-Christian roots in exchange for a post-modern narcissistic hedonism. A reflection of this is that most Spaniards do not believe in the future enough to want to pass it on to the next generation. A consequence of this is that Spaniards are not having enough children to maintain the population at stable levels.
For many years, the birth rate in Spain was 0.7 percent, the lowest in the industrialized world. In recent years the birth rate has climbed to around 1.2, thanks to the infamous “baby check” whereby the Socialist government bribed Spaniards into having children by offering to pay them 2,500 euros for each newborn baby. Now that economic crisis has ended the “baby check” scheme, birth rates are likely to drop once again.
In the cultural realm, corruption is a major impediment to generating confidence in the future. Moreover, the pie of opportunities in Spain is relatively small, and those who already have their piece of the pie are reluctant to share it with others. This makes it difficult if not outright impossible for new talent to break into Spanish business and politics. As a result, some of the most talented young Spaniards emigrate to the United States or the United Kingdom. This creates a brain drain and in turn institutionalizes a mediocrity at all levels of Spanish society. It also explains why Rajoy could end up being the PP candidate in November 2011, after having lost so many times before.
On balance, the future for Spain does not look bright. It remains to be seen whether the current economic crisis becomes a catalyst for fundamental change, or an excuse to stay entrenched in the old ways of doing things.
Senserrich: Demographics are indeed a problem in the long term. Spain’s situation is less urgent than Italy’s or Germany’s (demographics is one of the main reasons behind the German push for austerity), but it is something that needs to be tackled before the end of the decade. In any case, nothing can be done before the economy turns around; with youth unemployment in the 40% region, increasing birth rates is all but impossible.
In any case, Spain has a significant opportunity going forward: immigration. The country is a very attractive destination for other Europeans, to the point that becoming the Florida/Sunbelt of Europe is a viable strategy. In addition, the country so far has been surprisingly welcoming to immigrants from outside the European Union, especially Latin America. The old cultural ties and affinities with the old colonies, as well as the shared language, make integration much easier.
Update: Spain Turns Blue