It may be just about the most inspiring sight imaginable: hundreds of thousands of people gathered in the main square of some capital city, demanding democratic self-rule. “They’re doing it in many different corners of the world,” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said last week, “places as varied as Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan and, on the other hand, Lebanon, and rumblings in other parts of the world as well. And so this is a hopeful time.”
It is a process in which the United States claims more than an observer’s role. The business of America, says President Bush, is spreading democracy. “The leaders of governments with long habits of control need to know: To serve your people, you must learn to trust them,” Bush said in his inaugural address this January. “Start on this journey of progress and justice and America will walk at your side.”
Unless, of course, you’re Mexican.
— Harold Meyerson in the Washington Post
Like Matt Yglesias, I’m much less impressed with Lopez Obrador’s “populism” than is Meyerson. But Matt says what’s obviously right: the choice ought to be up to the Mexican voters, not to the legislators of the PRI and the PAN.
As to the notion that stripping Lopez Obrador of his immunity has something to do with the rule of law: don’t make me laugh. It’s raw, Tom DeLay-style politics, pure and simple.
Exactly what the U.S. should be doing is far from clear. Mexicans are, naturally, touchy about having us interfere in their politics. In this case, with the overwhelming majority of Mexicans, including most PRI voters and about half of PAN voters, apparently very unhappy about the attempt to keep Lopez Obrador off the ballot, we could probably do ourselves some good in terms of Mexicans’ attitudes toward the U.S. if our officials made polite references to the importance of democracy. Since no one could imagine that the U.S. government actually wants Lopez Obrador in power, it would be pretty clear that we were acting on principle.
On the other hand, Vicente Fox wouldn’t be happy, and we have business to do with him for the remaining year of his term.
So it’s not an easy hand to play. But it seems to me likely to be a big mistake to make “democracy” a foreign policy keynote and then shut up whenever an honest count might not produce a result to our liking.
Moreover, I don’t think Mexico is really going back to one-party rule, and if they keep having free elections the PRD candidate is going to win some year. It would be nice of the winner then could remember that we spoke up for democracy now.
[Previous rant here.]
Footnote: I’ve noticed a tendency among various bloggers and commenters to refer to the victim of this purge as “Obrador.” That’s a mistake. In a Spanish name such as Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, Andres and Manuel are the baptismal names, Lopez the father’s surname (which will be inherited by the children) and Obrador the mother’s surname (inherited from her father). “Sr. Lopez Obrador” is formal; “Lopez Obrador” good newspaper style; “Sr. Lopez” somewhat informal; “Lopez” conversational.
“Obrador,” by contrast, is either a solecism or a deadly insult, suggesting doubt about the candidate’s claim to be the son of his mother’s husband.