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2 2 creating the image: construction of the images of yrigoyen and alvear During Yrigoyen’s first inauguration, even before he had his hands on the levers of power, the crowd surged forward and detached the horses from his carriage and pulled it through the streets of Buenos Aires.1 In 1920 in the traditional end of a campaign rally, when the party’s followers marched past a balcony on which Yrigoyen stood to greet them, the marchers from the twentieth ward lowered their banners and knelt before Yrigoyen.2 Popular devotion to the Radicals and Yrigoyen was fervent, reflected both in voting totals and street demonstrations. The political style of the Radicals dominated the period of the first opening to democracy and had a major impact for decades. Not surprisingly, this style derived from traditional Argentine politics; the early leaders of the Radicals, with few exceptions , were political veterans. The Ley Sáenz Peña of 1912 did change the nature of politics. For the first time the winning of popular support became essential for political success. The rupture with the past, however, is less dramatic than it appears. The works of Hilda Sabato and Paula Alonso have demonstrated that a tradition of popular involvement in politics existed in Buenos Aires prior to 1912.3 Still, a change did occur; winning voter approval had become critical. The Radicals’ opponents frequently charged that the party lacked a speci fic program. This did not mean that they lacked ideas about ways to 1. La Prensa, October 13, 1916. 2. Marcelo Padoan, Jesús, el templo y los viles mercaderes: Un examen de la discursividad yrigoyenista (Bernal, Argentina: Universidad Nacional de Quilmes, 2002), 40. 3. Sabato, La polı́tica en las calles; Paula Alonso, Between Revolution and the Ballot Box. PAGE 35 ................. 16996$ $CH2 10-03-08 08:38:54 PS 36 argentina’s radical party and popular mobilization, 1916–1930 garner popular support or to govern. Part strategy, part a result of the way that the Radicals viewed themselves, the Radicals presented themselves and their leader, Hipólito Yrigoyen, in a singular fashion that helped make him extraordinarily popular among certain sectors of the population and the center of what could be viewed as almost a cult of personality. The approach of the Anti-Personalist wing of the Radical Party did not differ remarkably, although it was, not surprisingly, less personal. The rhetoric of the Radicals and of Yrigoyen is important, and this chapter will explore the images that they attempted to create. These images from the era before the full development of radio need to be examined with care. Who read the Radical press or heard the speeches on the street corners? We cannot be certain. The official Yrigoyenist paper, La Epoca, does not appear to be designed to have a great deal of popular appeal, and it is written in a style that seems to assume that its readers also read other papers. According to Manuel Gálvez, it did not have a circulation greater than twenty thousand and not even the Radicals read it. La Acción, the Anti-Personalist paper, similarly appeared to lack popular appeal. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, its circulation in 1928 was twenty-five thousand.4 Even if we know their circulation, how many party affiliates bought them for political reasons but did not really read them? Unlike the Perón era, when few true alternative sources of information existed, under the Radicals there were many. Crı́tica and La Prensa, the largest circulating newspapers, were at times furiously anti-Yrigoyen, as were other media organs. La Fronda, for example, in 1929 claimed that the Radical victory brought ‘‘as a principal consequence an evident predominance of negroid mentality.’’5 The public sphere was contested space. There were contradictory messages available, and only those with a predisposition to consume the pro-Radical message were going to be affected by the party’s point of view. Creating the Image of Yrigoyen The messages about Yrigoyen had a profound impact that is difficult to fully comprehend some eighty years later. Fervor developed among por4 . Manuel Gálvez, Vida de Hipólito Yrigoyen: El hombre de misterio, 2nd ed. (Buenos Aires: Guillermo Kraft, 1939), 264; American Society of Newspaper Editors, International Year Book 1929, 290. 5. La Fronda, July 31, 1929, as cited in Ricardo Sidicaro, La polı́tica mirada desde arriba: Las ideas del diario La Nación, 1909...


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