On Saturday at the Guadalajara International Book Fair, presidential candidate Enrique Pena Nieto was asked a simple question at a press conference:
“What are the three books that have marked your life?”
The fumbling answer by Pena Nieto, the golden boy and presumptive next president of Mexico, made clear that he does not read much at all. His hems and haws were reminiscent of Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s performance at a recent GOP debate and has made him the butt of innumerable jokes in social media, many scornful.
Pena Nieto grabbed for the obvious, saying he read the Bible as a youngster. But after pausing for many seconds he named another book, The Eagle’s Throne, but offered the incorrect author, saying it was by Enrique Krauze rather than writer Carlos Fuentes. He couldn’t name a third book. I’m attaching the video above for those who understand Spanish.
This was a painful moment, reminiscent of Perry’s inability to name all three federal agencies he’d like to abolish. It also harkens back to George H.W. Bush being impressed by a scanner at a grocery store in 1992, setting off charges that he was elitist. Or how about Democrat Michael Dukakis in 1988 wearing a helmet and riding around with a dopey grin in a tank.
After news spread of Pena Nieto’s gaffe, commentary on social media soared with hashtags like #leerpenanieto and #librerirapenanieto. Satirists mashed up slogans making Pena Nieto the de facto spokesman for the huge Gandhi chain of bookstores.
The logo in the mashup says, “First, Learn to Read.” It uses the party logo of Pena Nieto’s Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, as part of the slogan.
All of this, of course, plays off the image of Pena Nieto as a prepackaged and scripted candidate unable to deal with extemporaneous situations. In short, he doesn’t think well on his feet.
Denise Dresser, a political analyst, recently wrote this of Pena Nieto: “He follows the script and is a rigid politician, not good at improvising, debating or moving away from what is written down in front of him. When he departs from script, he slips and that’s why his advisers don’t let him do it.”
The advisers messed up on Saturday. You go to a book fair, you darn well better think of some impressive books to reel off if you’re going to a press conference even if all you read is your mail.
Pena Nieto’s book moment has appeared in Spanish-language print media, but it has been with nowhere the piquancy and derision of social media. This will take a lot of work by spinmeisters to scrub away.