South of the Border

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.

14 thoughts on “South of the Border

  1. Ralph Hightower

    Here is a topic that Lee and I agree upon.
    It concerns H-1B Visas and companies hiring (contracting) foreign workers to displace American workers. There is also legislation to eliminate the 6 year limit of H-1B visas letting foreign workers stay in the US indefinitely.
    The Microsofts and other companies claim that there are not enough skilled computer programmers in America to fill their jobs and that they need to hire foreign workers. Yet, Americans are pushed out from their jobs to make way for foreign workers at lower pay.
    With Americans displaced from high-tech jobs, it is no wonder that college students aren’t enrolling in computer science, opting instead for business administration. Hopefully, Wall Street’s greed and folly will be computer science’s gains in colleges.
    Below is a seminar held by the law firm of Cohen and Griggs on how to word the ads and screen applicants to fufill the legalities of hiring H-1B employees:

    For more information visit the Programmer’s Guild:

  2. Jerry

    Right on Iraq? You make that comment like it is an accepted fact handed down from on high. Any idiot outside of Rumsfield, Cheney, Bush, Bremer…knew we did not go in with enough troops. If that had happened when it should have been done, there would have been no debate later about the surge.
    I would disagree vehemently that the initial invasion was the “right thing.”

  3. Lee Muller

    As the economy slows under the uncertainty of the mortgage scandals, IT workers will be laid off. If there were truly a shortage of American talent, the foreign H-1B workers should be the first laid off and sent home.
    The reality is that 1,000,000 American IT workers and software engineers are already sitting at home, because there was no shortage, but their jobs were sold to the lowest bidders by a Congress that had been bought off by Microsoft, HP, and other former innovative companies, now in a race to the bottom.

  4. Barchibald T Barlow

    Yeah, but couldn’t these software engineers be making more money selling magazine subscriptions anyway?

  5. Phillip

    It’s not all peachy-keen one direction as you seem to think, there is still another side to all of this.
    I think Obama accomplishes two things by his current stand, 1) he keeps US labor on his side through the election, and 2) he keeps pressure up on Uribe to crack down on rogue elements within the armed forces, as the article indicates. My hunch is that after the election Obama will move a bit towards the direction of the Colombia pact.

  6. bud

    Phillip, you are absolutely right on this. Obama is a very smart guy who is not going to jump at the first opportunity to support something different. He will review the Colombian situation and work with all our allies, labor, business and others and do what is right for America. He’s demonstrated that type of thoughtful analysis throughout the campaign. His answer in the debate indicated that for now he supports the status quo. That is absolutlely the correct stance to take right now. That could chance.
    McCain, on the other hand, demonstrated, yet again, his impulsive nature on decision making. That’s what got us into such a mess in Iraq. A bit more thoughtful analysis there would have shown Iraq for the benign entity that it has been proven to be without all the carnage and wasted money.
    This entire debate just reinforces my decision to vote for Obama. He once again demonstrates his ability to hold off making big decisions until all the facts are in. McCain, as usual, demonstrates just the opposite, a dangerous propensity for compulsive behavior.

  7. Barchibald T Barlow

    “His answer in the debate indicated that for now he supports the status quo.”
    That sums of Barack Obama right there. Status quo. Or as I like to call him, “Bush’s third term.”

  8. Phillip

    Maybe you’ve got something there, Barchibald. After all, the count now stands at 47 papers that endorsed Bush in 2004 have endorsed Obama, while a grand total of 4 (who are they?!) that endorsed Kerry in 2004 have endorsed McCain.

  9. Barchibald T Barlow

    The fact that those 47 papers endorsed Bush alone is hilarious! There’s nothing to help your paper’s credibility like endorsing one of the worst presidents of our lifetime!

  10. Brad Warthen

    Let me get this straight, Phillip and bud — vote for Obama, because he doesn’t really mean the thoughtless, party-line stuff he says about Colombia? Vote for him expecting he’ll govern differently from the way he says he will?

    OK… do you guys find it persuasive when people say, never mind that McCain can’t run a campaign, his administrative brilliance will suddenly shine through when he becomes president?

    No? Then how can you go for THIS argument?

  11. bud

    Brad, I think you’re just way overthinking this. The Colombian trade agreement is of minor importance for now. Yet because it is so complex it should be carefully evaluated. So what’s wrong with leaving it alone, for now? Obama may, in the end, stick with his debate answer or change. No need to rush into anything. Besides why is Obama’s answer any more partisan than McCain’s? After all McCain was parroting the party line too.

  12. p.m.

    I think at this point it’s safe to say to assume that if Obama pointed to the cliff and said to his supporters, “Y’all go ahead and jump over the precipice. I’ll be right behind you,” that the only people left to vote for him would be the ones who didn’t hear they were supposed to jump over the cliff.
    You Obamaphiles should read your comments with a critical eye. They don’t make a whole lot of sense.

  13. Phillip

    Brad, that’s just a guess on my part. Certainly Obama is not immune from tweaking a position or two for political advantage…he’s not divine, you know. That’s a lot different from changing your whole identity.
    But anyway, it’s at least as plausible that he will stick to his position on Colombia. There are certainly many good reasons to be very careful about the Colombia Free Trade agreement.

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