Some of y’all really hated it that I mentioned the Colombian Free Trade Agreement in the McCain endorsement — which to me illustrates the no-win situation I saw myself in with all those loyal and devoted Obamaphiles out there. Nice people, many of them, but hard to please if you don’t agree with them.
If I had just cited the usual reasons — being right on Iraq, taking a stand on doing the right thing on immigration, being a war hero, etc. — I would have been castigated for lack of original thought. So I decided to include something you might not have thought of — and something that actually helped confirm my preference for McCain — as a way of broadening the discussion. Perhaps predictably, I got the obvious response from those determined to find fault: Obviously you don’t have any good reasons, since you drag this out of left field.
No win situation.
Doug mentions back on this post that The Economist has endorsed Obama. Well, a couple of days ago I was reading something in The Economist that reminded me of why the Colombian FTA is important to me, but also why y’all might have trouble understanding that.
Blame it on my upbringing — or part of it, anyway. I spent two years, four-and-a-half months — easily the longest I lived in one place growing up — living in Guayaquil, Ecuador. From late 1962 through spring 1965. Like Obama in Indonesia, I saw a lot during that time that most nine-to-11 year olds growing up in the States don’t see. For instance, I was not only there during a military coup, but I was in the house at the time during when the plot was being hatched, at least in part. Our landlord was a captain in the Ecuadorean Navy, and my parents had left me at the landlord’s house while they went out one day. While I was there, a man came to visit the captain; they went into a room and closed the door. The next day, the president had been put on a plane to Panama, the man who had come to visit was a member of the new military junta, and our landlord had a big post in the new government. Minister of Agriculture, I think.
My guitar teacher, who had a little shop down by the waterfront where he made his own guitars by hand, was an agent for U.S. Naval Intelligence, I would later learn. And the missionary who preached at the nondenominational English-language services we attended on Sunday was working for the CIA. But not everyone was running things or plotting to run things. I remember the men who squatted in a circle in the dust of the vacant lot near our duplex as they bet on the cockfight in the center of their circle. I remember the smell of REAL poverty, the Third World kind, that arose from the poorest barrios of the city. It was different, very different, from living in this country.
I also remember people who were there working for JFK’s Alliance for Progress program. And ever since I came back in 1965, I’ve been acutely conscious of the fact that most of my fellow Americans just don’t give a damn one way or the other about these countries in their own backyards. JFK was the last.
This cultural indifference is definitely reflected in the mass media. So it is that I have to turn to such publications as The Economist to find out what’s going on in the realm of the Monroe Doctrine. It’s weird. Anyway, I got to thinking about that when I read this piece in The Economist the other day. It was about the irony that folks in Latin America seem to prefer Obama, even though it’s McCain who cares about the region enough to learn about it:
OF THE two candidates in the American presidential election, it is John McCain who knows something about Latin America. Not only was he born in Panama, he also visited Colombia and Mexico in July. He thinks the United States should ratify a free-trade agreement with Colombia and, at least until it became politically toxic, wanted to reform immigration policy. Ask him who the United States’ most important friends around the word are and he pretty quickly mentions Brazil.
And yet if they had a vote, Latin Americans, like Europeans, would cast it for Barack Obama—though without much enthusiasm. Preliminary data from the latest Latinobarómetro poll, taken in 18 countries over the past month and published exclusively by The Economist, show that 29% of respondents think an Obama victory would be better for their country, against only 8% favouring Mr McCain. Perhaps surprisingly, 30% say that it makes no difference who wins, while 31% claim ignorance. Enthusiasm for Mr Obama is particularly high in the Dominican Republic (52%), Costa Rica, Uruguay and Brazil (41%). In Brazil, six candidates in this month’s municipal elections changed their names to include “Barack Obama” in them.
In the third presidential debate, I noticed two things (well, I noticed a lot of things, but two things related to this post): That McCain had cared enough to understand what it meant to support a trade agreement with a key ally in the region — an agreement that could only be good for this country in terms of trade and jobs, and which affirmed a country that had undertaken huge sacrifices to ally itself with U.S. interests. That was the first thing. The second was that Obama seemed not even to have scratched the surface of the issue. His answer was such Big Labor boilerplate, it seemed plain that he had not looked into the issue or thought about it beyond his party’s talking points.
To me, that spoke to things that were true about the two candidates in a broader sense — experience, and the ability to differentiate between our friends in the world and those who wish us, and their own people, ill. I had been deeply impressed by the recent piece Nicholas Kristof — a guy who almost certainly will vote for Obama — had done on this issue, and the degree that Obama’s answer utterly failed to look at the issue as knowledgeably and thoughtfully as Kristof had. And as McCain had.
I sat and talked to Ted Sorensen about Obama as the heir to Camelot, and was deeply impressed. But I’ve gathered since then that aura aside, Obama seems actually less likely to take the kind of interest in Latin America that Kennedy did. McCain is more likely to do so. Ironic, huh?
So to me it was more than, here’s a little esoteric fact I know and you don’t. To me, it mattered. But to me, South America has always mattered.