Still, Lula whittled away at his opponent's lead, promising land reform and a higher minimum wage and calling down wrath on the corrupt elite. The race was a dead heat when Collor pulled a stunt that could have come from a telenovela. Days before the election, he arranged for Lula's ex-mistress, Miriam Cordeiro, to hold a press conference and accuse Lula of offering her money to abort the fetus that was to become their daughter Lurian (he has four children with his wife). All the evidence rebuts these charges--Lula acknowledges paternity, Lurian's a PT activist, Cordeiro suddenly came into a lot of money-- but the attack threw Lula into a funk. He performed feebly in the last presidential debate, and specially edited lowlights of his performance were replayed over and over by TV Globo, the pro-Collor network watched by 70% of the population.
In the end, Collor won, 35 million votes to 31 million--a triumph soon to be sullied by the man who enjoyed it. Yet even as the election showed that the PT had not fully arrived, it established Lula, only 44 years old, as the national alternative to the traditional political elite. The past 4 1/2 years have diminished neither his stature nor his savvy at wooing the middle class: His grammar is better, his beard more neatly trimmed, his suits more likely to be Italian. In recent polls that have him running against every possible candidate at once, Lula invariably receives 30% to 32% of the vote, more than twice the nearest opponent. He is, if anything, more popular than ever, both personally and as the embodiment of his party.
"He's an ordinary Brazilian guy, and that's his appeal," said Ricardo Kotscho, a shrewd, witty ex-journalist whose official title of press secretary masks a more profound role as Lula's buddy, confidant and jester. "Usually your Brazilian politicians are from the elite, the political elite or the cultural elite. Lula's the first one who comes from the people, and he already has much more than he ever dreamed of. So now he feels responsibility to do something about the injustice in Brazil. It's not that he's a saint. He's not. He's a man, \o7 um brasileiro tipico. \f7 If Lula was free to do whatever he wanted, it would be fishing, soccer, women and parties. And that's why people like him."
OF COURSE, NOT EVERYONE LIKES LULA, OR HE WOULDN'T HAVE LOST THE 1989 election. Late one smoggy afternoon, I stopped by Sao Paulo's City Hall to talk to the mayor, Paulo Maluf, who has twice run for president as the candidate of the Social Democratic Party, which was created by the dictatorship. Maluf is a dapper, funny man whose penchant for deliberate, cheerful buffoonishness--his hoarse voice and full cheeks recall a thousand sendups of Don Vito Corleone--can't hide his enormous shrewdness. Although coy about whether he would again seek the presidency, he was straightforward when it came to Lula and the PT. He couldn't imagine why anyone would vote for them.
"Lula's probably good at many things, but for being president"--he wrinkled his brow ironically--"he has no more experience than the average people. He never worked in business, private or public. He never was a director of a free enterprise or public enterprise. He never was a mayor. He never was on a city council. He never was a secretary of transportation or anything else. He never was a minister." Maluf rubbed his thumb along a desk the length of a shuffleboard court and gazed happily around his huge office with its scale-model version of a new public-works project. The problem, he said, isn't merely Lula himself: It's the limitations of his ideology.
"The ideas of the left are old-fashioned. Don't pay the public debt, don't pay the national debt, complete control of the banks--this was a speech that was good 50 years ago. That's the reason they're not going to win the election. The PT was the government for four years in the city of Sao Paulo, and they lost the next election because of mismanagement."
This view of Lula is shared by the elite and much of the middle class. Some of their disdain is mere snobbery toward any man with a working-class style and little formal education. But their main objection is economic. The PT wants to limit the size of landholdings, stop privatization of state industries, maintain trade barriers and find ways to redistribute wealth. These economic proposals will cost his opponents money and diminish their power. They also run counter to the neo-liberal orthodoxies of the West. There's considerable off-the-record nervousness about what a leftist government in Brasilia might do to the spread of free-market policies in South America. At the same time, most international financiers and U.S. State Department experts think that it's too early to be sure how radically Lula would actually govern. As one Latin American financial expert told me, "Reform governments have a way of coming back toward the middle."