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What’s left?

25 November 2008

The U.S. left is falling all over itself to deny that the country’s electorate is ‘center-right’.  Of course, the claim is coming from the discredited “Republican base” trying to rebrand itself as something more mainstream sounding, but they do have a point,

if you look at U.S. politics from Mexico, where two-thirds of the voters back socialist parties, there is no “left” in the United States.  There are “liberals”, but here, “liberal” refers to the 19th century proposition that “tolerance” was the price to be paid for free trade.  In our own era, “neo-liberal” played down the importance of tolerance within a nation for tolerance of other nations that accepted corporate capitalism.  In other words, Fascist Chile under the Pinochet regime, techocratic Mexico under Salinas de Goutari and the United States under right-winger Ronald Reagan were all “neo-liberal” regimes.   By this thinking, the incoming Obama administration may be “liberal”, but hardly “leftist”.

Considering that the U.S. thinks something as unremarkable as coming around to the idea of mandatory health insurance is a “radical” new idea, only 127 years after Chancellor Otto von Bismark introduced the concept to the Reichstag as a conservative (and explicitly “Christian”) alternative to Marxism would the idea even be considered “leftist”.  And, in an election that saw the winning Presidential candidate deny even the whisper of a suggestion that he might harbor “socialist” ideas as if he was denying he had leprosy, would one read anything leftist into an Obama victory. Not that I completely dismiss the incoming administration.    Even the right-wing Justin Raimundo concedes that the U.S. wants social change:

Obama’s interests, from what I can tell, are primarily domestic: he was a community organizer working with those who fell through the cracks in our economy, and his very real empathy for ordinary people drives him toward his goal of reforming the structure of American society, which he believes promotes inequality and continuing insecurity.

Economically, what’s leftist?  Even the extreme right, the outgoing Bush administration and the Uribe administration in Colombia, to use two examples, are willing to dump state funds into the marketplace to prop up the economy.  The Calderon Administration here, hardly “leftist”, is investing most of the budget in public works projects and economic stimulus packages.  As Richard Nixon once said, “We are all Keynesians now”… and it’s only in comparison to the odd adventure in Ronald Reagan’s wacky neo-liberalism”, followed through by the two Bushes and Bill Clinton, that a return to normal economic policy seems “leftist.”

While not “leftist” you expect domestic policy will be very different from what it has been in the Untied States for the last several years… as to foreign policy — specifically in regard to Mexico and Latin America — it appears to be the same old, same old “neo-liberalism”.  Typical of leftist (blue-collar, ordinary leftists, not bloggers and professors) attitudes in Latin America is that of a Peruvian protester interviewed by APF during anti George Bush demonstrations in Lima last weekend:

… he had more sympathy for Mr Bush’s successor, Barack Obama, he believed the Democrat “is going to maintain the neo-liberal system” championed by the current US president.

Joe Conason, in Salon, describes those of us object to Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State-designate as “Clinton haters.”  We’re not.  Conason is concerned with the effect of Clinton on party politics, and the choice may be a shrewd one from that perspective.  For the 96 percent of human beings outside the United States who will be affected one way or another by Senator Clinton’s decisions and prejudices, can’t afford these fine distinctions.  Those of us in Latin America can take little comfort from Clinton’s published remarks in the November/December 2007 Foreign Affairs. Clinton’s assertion that “the United States is committed to building a world we want”, to Mexicans one hopes does not include things like the 1846-48 want for California and Texas, or the want in 1914 by Woodrow Wilson to prevent either the Germans or English from gaining control of the Atlantic sea-lanes and deciding to invade Veracruz, or the 1916 decision to invade Mexico because the “world the United States’ wanted” did not include Pancho Villa.

Clinton devoted exactly one paragraph of her eight-page article to Latin America:

At our peril, the Bush administration has neglected our neighbors to the south. We have witnessed the rollback of democratic development and economic openness in parts of Latin America. We must return to a policy of vigorous engagement; this is too critical a region for the United States to stand idly by. We must support the largest developing democracies in the region, Brazil and Mexico, and deepen economic and strategic cooperation with Argentina and Chile. We must also continue to cooperate with our allies in Colombia, Central America, and the Caribbean to combat the interconnected threats of drug trafficking, crime, and insurgency. Finally, we must work with our allies to provide sustainable-development programs that promote economic opportunity and reduce inequality for the citizens of Latin America.

All that sounds reasonable, but hardly “leftist” or even centerist. It sounds more like a call for continuing the “neo-liberal” policies (“economic opening in parts of Latin America”) rejected again and again by the voters in the southern nations as too costly to themselves. “Our allies in Colombia…” sounds like support for Colombian Free Trade Agreement and “Plan Colombia” which props up the Uribe regime, and, is obviously used to supress dissent by branding it “insurgency”. Of course, the same fears would apply to Mexico, under funding for the Merida Plan.

And, while I don’t agree with much of his article in Narco News, Al Giordino makes a few cogent points about “mainstream” U.S. neo-liberals in general and Senator Clinton in particular:

For some, whether liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican, it does not matter or pinch their consciences what happens to subsistence level indigenous farmers in a small town in Mexico. (Nor do they want to look at the direct consequences to their own communities when millions of Mexicans over the past 14 years have streamed over the border to the United States to escape from the economic and political harms that have inflicted them since the enactment of NAFTA.)

Democratic and Republican presidents – beginning with Clinton and continued under Bush – chose multi-billion dollar US military intervention (known as “Plan Colombia”) and pushed for pro-corporate trade agreements over defense of human rights. Such policies have only emboldened the state terror campaigns in both countries and led to human tragedy after human tragedy.

Undeterred by the abject failure of “Plan Colombia” to improve human rights and democracy in that country (but probably spurred on by how it has given that country’s despot, President Alvaro Uribe, the tools to repress the peaceful dissidents and movements that oppose him), the Bush administration proposed, and Congress approved, “Plan Mexico” last year which is already funding a kind of Colombianization of the country next-door to the United States.

Those policies have also damaged Americans at home as companies have closed their factories in the United States and moved them to Mexico and elsewhere where the state terror campaigns keep unions from organizing and citizens from speaking out against the pollution they cause to the natural environment.

And you might say that, “the next Secretary of State will have to follow the policies of the next president.” In an ideal world, that would be true. But so much happens, day in, day out, in so many lands… so many daily attacks on dissidents, community organizers, and others who dare speak and act to improve their lives… that no US president could possibly micro-manage the situation and take preemptive action on each pending atrocity from the Oval Office. That’s what a State Department is for: to handle the constant communications that are necessary with other governments.

And if – as the mass media seems to agree right now – US President-elect Barack Obama is about to install someone as the next Secretary of State who has shown zero understanding of, much less passion and action for, human rights in Mexico, Colombia and elsewhere (except in isolated cases where the same mass media has turned a particular case into an international cause celébre), we’re going to see more of the same terrible story happen over and over again.

More troubling by far… given the reactivation of the fourth fleet… is Senator Clinton’s support for quick military solutions to foreign policy problems.  Having identified insurgency with drug running with “terrorism”, the only positive thing Latin American leftists can say about Hillary is that she’s not Condaleeza Rice.

It could be worse. Janet Napolitano, being proposed for Secretary of Homeland Security, is said to be “pro-migrant”… or at least she pisses off the folks at Free Republic (which is worth something) and may be a bit more willing to negotiate with landowners regarding the Great Wall of Texas. Napolitano is the Democratic party governor of an extremely reactionary state (Arizona) and naturally has to hew to a conservative line if she is to govern at all.

Former Minnesota Republican congressman Jim Ramstad, the likely new “Drug Czar” is only “leftist” in that he was considered a “moderate” by his party while in office.  Ramstad apparently accepts the fact that drug use is a health issue, but interdiction should be a criminal matter. And Ramstad, as a “moderate Republican” shows no indication of wanting to upset the economicaly powerful “carcerial” system (which makes crime pay… by creating investment opportunities in supplying law enforcement, building and staffing prisons, etc.)  Again, no real new thinking, no movement to the left or to “center”… a little saner version of neo-liberalism that has existed since Reagan’s Administration, but with the same tendency to run roughshod over Latin American rights and needs… just “right”.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. 25 November 2008 11:08 am

    I’m in agreement with you. I posted something similar to that on my blog (link below), but I think you sum it up much more nicely. I’ve long been an admirer of Conason, except for his unwavering support of the Clintons. And, if the rumors are correct (although Giordano is still maintaining that’s it’s far from decided), Hillary will signal to Latin America that neo-liberalism and Obama go together like, well… the U.S. and imperialism.
    No surprise, only disappointment.


  1. Obama = Wilson, Chapo = Villa? « The Mex Files
  2. I hate to say I told ya so, but… | The Mex Files

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