Dilma, Brazil’s First Post-Modern President? / by Mark Langevin

President Dilma is a trained economist with both feet placed firmly on Brazil’s structural foundation and the cause of economic growth.  She, more than anyone else, is probably the most frustrated with the slow pace of growth since 2010 in the aftermath of the Wall Street meltdown in 2007.  Indeed, Brazil’s economy grew by less than one percent in 2012, one of the worst years since her Workers Party (the Partido dos Trabalhadores) took over the federal executive with the election of former President Lula in 2002.  Certainly, most Brazilians and observers expected more growth under the developmentalist perspective of President Dilma and her government.  However, maybe the economy is no longer the only game in town with regard to politics and the standing of the Brazilian president. The president’s approval ratings are at an historic high and compare with many of highest ratings earned by ex-President Lula during the years of high growth. Dilma, albeit in ironic fashion, maybe Brazil’s first post-modern president.

The recent CNI-IBOPE opinion poll of President Dilma’s approval, reported by Bloomberg, show that

“Rousseff’s rating rose to 79 percent in March from 78 percent in December, according to the polling firm Ibope. Of those surveyed, 63 percent approved of her government, up from 62 percent in the previous poll. Both numbers were the highest ever for her administration.”

At a time when Brazil is struggling to find a path toward greater growth, the President enjoys unprecedented popularity and is following a clear path toward re-election in 2014.  So what gives, is Dilma so charismatic that her own personality trumps the current economic doldrums; is the historically high employment levels and real increases in wages enough to continue to propel her popularity; or are Brazilians by and large increasingly interested in the post-modern political values, first detailed by Ronald Englehart, and their expression through both the personality and public policies of Dilma?

Brazilians still talk about the price of beans, and many are increasingly wont to chat about the prices of those vacation packages to DisneyWorld in Orlando.  Certainly most Brazilians do not enjoy the level of material comforts that led Englehart to speculate that Western Europeans and North Americans could afford to pay closer attention to policies of gender equality, environmental preservation, and the aesthetics of prosperity.  However, and even more ironic, as Europeans and North Americans pay closer attention to the bread and butter issues of economic structuralism, Brazilians may be tempering their own economistic political perspectives with ample doses of post-modern political spirits.

One way or another, President Dilma is likely to find another opportunity to re-ignite Brazilian economic growth, but in the meantime she may benefit from the diversification of political values that shape the way Brazilians evaluate their governing officials.  In this way, Dilma may indeed be Brazil’s first post-modern president.