They say that one mark of great politicians is their ability to look you in the eye and make you believe every word they say. Even when you know they might not believe it themselves.
Outgoing Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has that quality.
The problem with Lula – as he is widely known – is that he tells one audience one thing and then contradicts himself the very next day in front of a completely different crowd.
The latest example came this week when Lula, who stands down on Jan. 1 after a phenomenally successful eight years in power, told a Brazilian TV station he might consider running again in 2014.
“I can’t say no because I'm still alive,” Lula told Rede TV. "I’m honorary president of a party, I’m a born politician, I built extraordinary political relationships.”
That affirmation came just weeks after Lula stood alongside incoming President-elect Dilma Rousseff and angrily said that talk about him running for president again was “small minded.” Brazilians should be discussing 2011 and the immediate challenges ahead, not speculating about four years from now, Lula told reporters.
Lula is constitutionally forbidden from seeking a third consecutive term, but would have been a shoo-in had he been able to run in this fall's election. The unlettered high school dropout and former union leader is the most popular president in Brazil’s history and leaves office with a personal approval rating of 87 percent.
His prudent economic policies have spurred Brazil’s rapid growth and his clout as a statesman helped Brazil become an influential player on the world stage. Brazil will host the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics.
But Lula has not been clear about what he wants do after giving up the presidency (more mixed messages there).
Some even believe he chose a relatively unknown civil servant to succeed him because she would be easier to manipulate – and unseat if he decides to make a comeback.
Lula was well aware that his television confession was controversial, not to say unnerving for Ms. Rousseff, who has none of Lula’s personal charisma or innate political savvy.
He stressed that 2014 is a long way off and noted that even if he does decide to run again, he will face a host of capable candidates and a different political landscape.
Much can change between now and 2014. Lula’s story no doubt will.