04 June 2010

Not Near The Best, Far From The Worst

Caguas Mayor Willie Miranda died today of pancreatic cancer. Like any Fool--My pejorative term for any politician--he was not on My list of people I'd invite to dinner. But if someone held a gun to My head and forced Me to invite a Fool, he would have been invited just before dessert appeared on the table.

Willie's 12+ years in Caguas were built upon the planning and vision of another well-respected Caguas mayor, Angel Berríos. But beyond safekeeping a vision, Willie provided a set of insights all his own, moving Caguas to the forefront of trend-setting municipalities in Puerto Rico with several civic and business initiatives that transformed the city. He will probably be best remembered for introducing the 1% "Willie Tax," a precursor of the much-trashed Sales Tax. As a move to enrich Fools and the stupid games they play in lieu of government, the Willie Tax was a success. For them. For Us it was the abandonment of any attempt at sober government fiscal policy in favor of squeezing more money out of Our residents in exchange for less services overall.

But Willie didn't follow that pattern too closely. He actually improved some services in Caguas and created new venues, from the Fine Arts Center (planned by Angel, but expanded as a government center by Willie) to high-value real estate projects, the kind that Angel wasn't keen on, but Willie saw the benefit of "suburbanizing" the city as an expansion of San Juan.

Before you think I'm treading lightly because he's dead, let Me point out that, in a corrupt game, the successful (long-term) player has to participate in and benefit from the corruption. Any scenario that implies that the player--Let's call him "Willie"--rises to the top of the party crony system and remains in power for 12+ years amidst a cesspool of thieves, frauds, cheats, perverts and sociopaths and remains as pure as the driven snow is nothing but the hollow babbling of an imbecile. Willie was a successful long-term player in Our political cesspool: Willie was not pure as the driven snow. He was simply better at not exposing himself too much and thus getting caught. If that makes him a hero, it says more about Us than it does about him.

Which brings Me to Willie's biggest failing in his potential quest for transcendent political fame: he wasn't white enough. (Pun and insight intended.) I've said it before and I'll point it out again: all of Our governors have been men or woman of skin far whiter than Willie's. In fact, the only gubernatorial candidate darker than Willie since the 1950s was the PPR's Rogelio Figueroa, but in his case, the more proper term would be "candidate". Or maybe "cardboard." Really thin cardboard.

But maybe it wasn't a failing. Maybe Willie never really wanted to be the governor and felt perfectly at home in his role of Caguas Mayor. As a military man, Willie would be familiar with the concept of "career NCO" or "career staff officer," men and women for whom promotion would mean leaving behind the rank and role they love and felt best in. Maybe it was the collective yearning of his supporters that pushed him in the direction of acting like a gubernatorial candidate and he played along because he was a politician and that's what politicians do: cater to the masses. In that case, his pliancy (and here I am being polite) could have done more harm than good, as he had plenty of options to turn that support into something more insightful and influential than mere "candidacy."

He may have tried, by attempting to reframe the ubiquitously noxious status debate. However, his words lacked vibrancy and consistency, undermined, fr example, by the idea of suing the U.S. of part of A. for Our agreeing to the current contract by which they own Us and by his own inability to rise above the fray and act as a (youngish) elder statesman, someone who clearly placed the nation above party and personal politics. He could have done it, but he didn't, and therein lies his epitaph with Me.

The support he has received and will receive today and for the next few days is more pity than admiration. Willie was not at the top of an objective list of great politicians, but in that underclass of Fools, he was far from a serial bottom-feeder. And so that's My epitaph for him: Not near the best, far from the worst.

The Jenius Has Spoken.

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