Part 5 - By Ricardo Santos Gomes
There is at least one sense in which democracy really works: elections tend to reflect the true state of mind of the majority. At least in presidential elections, people vote for what they perceive to be their opinion and their preferences. In other words, the climate of ideas drives the elections.
Think tanks engage in the battle of ideas, and therefore, may change the outcome of elections, as well as public policies adopted by governments once they are elected. But during the campaign, what is the role of a liberal think tank member? Being vice-president for both Liberty Institute (Instituto Liberdade - IL) and Institute for Enterpreneurial Studies (Instituto de Estudos Empresariais – IEE), two very different organizations, I want to share some examples, and try to obtain some general guidelines out of it. I see different ways in which a liberal think tank can work for freedom during elections.
The first one is commenting on and analyzing the platforms of the candidates. This can be done in many different ways, using all media available. People from IEE and IL are frequently invited to participate in debates on TV and radio. Besides that, sites, blogs and social networks such as facebook and twitter are also used. Elections are a great opportunity for think tanks, because journalists are eager to listen to people who can interpret and analyze political news.
Most TV shows require “both sides” to be represented – and this generates a huge demand for liberal “points of view”. So here is the hint: be prepared to comment what is being said during the campaign. Once journalists find you well informed and with an original idea (that liberalism usually offers), they will come to you when they need good opinions.
The second way is to try to bring up issues that are not being discussed. This is less reactive then the first one, and demands more initiative. It’s all about calling attention to what is NOT being discussed in the campaign. A good way of doing it is calling the journalists, universities, radios, or everywhere else, and explain that there is something that is really relevant and is not being discussed.
Society does not have to passively wait and see what the politicians will discuss during the campaign – we can actually dictate the themes that will command the debate. Privatization and reducing tax burden disappeared from the debate in Brazil, and we always mention it when we get the chance.
IL has been working for a long time with the idea of vouchers that could reduce costs and improve quality in public education – this has been presented to major candidates and is frequently brought up in articles and comments by its members and directors. If not in the short term, at least in the long run I am convinced that people will start listening – and a change in the climate of ideas can take place.
The third way I see is a more direct approach to candidates. During campaign, candidates are invited to speak at IEE’s weekly meetings. We interview them, present them our ideas and make it very clear what we expect from them. It is a great opportunity to establish some sort of commitment from the candidates, and to bring their attention to aspects we believe important.'
This year, IEE members discussed education, safety and social security issues with main candidates running for Governor of Rio Grande do Sul State.
In any of these three forms of involvement with the elections, a think tank and its members can contribute to the growth of liberalism – and provide the public with an informed opinion. You do not need to choose a candidate or a political party in order to be relevant during campaigns – campaigning for liberty itself can produce a great result in the long term.
Ricardo Santos Gomes is an Attorney at Law, specialized in Labour Law, from Porto Alegre/Rio Grande do Sul. He is the Vice President of the Liberty Institute (Instituto Liberdade - IL) and the Institute for
Enterpreneurial Studies (Instituto de Estudos Empresariais – IEE). In May 2010 Ricardo participated in the seminar "Liberalism Today - Freedom First" of the International Academy for Leadership (IAF) in Gummersbach, Germany.