Over the last few months, the Republican presidential debates have managed to make almost everyone involved—that is, the whole country—look very silly. (See Herman Cain, Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich.) Fortunately, the international representatives of the One Percent have been working hard over the last week or so to make sure we have some company.First, the leading candidate in Mexico’s 2012 presidential election, Enrique Peña Nieto, got himself into trouble a few weekends ago by deciding to do a campaign stop at a book fair, and then being unable to list more than three books that had influenced him. Of those three, he admitted he hadn’t finished one (the Bible), named the wrong author for another, and couldn’t remember the title of the third. Almost overnight, tweets with a hashtag reading “Peña Nieto’s library” (and jokes like: “Three books that have changed my life? The Bible, The Bible 2 and The Bible Returns: Revenge of Jesus”) became the leading topic on Mexican Twitter.This might have blown over, except that his daughter tweeted in response: “Hello to all those assholes out there from the proletariat, who only criticize what they envy.” This set off an entirely new round of viral send-ups, and hopefully firmly established the precedent that bad-mouthing the “proletariat” is not a winning electoral strategy.
The exact extent of the damage isn’t yet clear, though Peña Nieto’s party, the PRI, announced on Friday that it has started polling to see how far their candidate’s numbers have dropped since the gaffe.The Russian ruling class also gave itself a major blow last week by not only stealing an election, but doing it very badly. Although a lot of the media coverage in the United States has focused on fraud captured by citizen journalists taking advantage of YouTube and other social media to build a case against Putin’s United Russia party, what’s left of the country’s independent traditional media has also played an important role.On Thursday the newspaper Novaya Gazeta was able to publish written accounts by dozens of students in St. Petersburg who were hired and organized by United Russia to vote a dozen times or more in multiple precincts using falsified ballots. The students—who, in all, provided nearly a thousand fraudulent votes for the ruling party—went public not because they wanted to join the growing protest movement and demand real democracy, but because United Russia botched the operation. Buses that were supposed to shuttle them between voting centers didn’t come, forcing them to walk miles in the Russian winter. Even worse, they were never paid the nearly $100 per vote they had been promised, despite, in the words of one student, having “honestly completed our work.”As a result, every last detail of “Operation Carousel,” as the party organizers called it, is now part of the public record, giving protestors even more ammunition in their bid to delegitimize the official reesults. Vladimir Putin still seems almost certain to win (or “win”) a third term in the upcoming presidential election.But with the government’s fraudulent tactics more exposed than ever, and the opposition more organized than at any time since the fall of the Soviet Union (Saturday’s protest in Moscow is thought to be the largest of the post-Soviet era), it’s providing more suspense than any Russian election in well over a decade.The polls open March 4.
Daniel Hertz is a senior fellow at City Observatory, an urban public policy think tank.