Wednesday, 29 July 2009

So's your momma

Part of the problem that the Concertación has with Marco Enríquez Ominami is that, as this story in La Tercera shows, when it tries to hit Piñera, instead of MEO getting on the bandwagon, he bounces the critique back at the Concertación. While MEO might attract disaffected Concertacionistas who would otherwise have gone to Piñera, thereby hurting Piñera, it is increasingly clear that his real beef is with the governing coalition. This can be traced not only to how he was treated by Escalona, but goes back to Lagos' presidential campaign.

In short, MEO is at this point becoming a real headache for the Concertación. But should he not make it to the second round in January, or worse still, should Frei win the election, MEO's chances for a rapprochement are looking slim. Will MEO bring his people back into the fold? Will the Concertación take them? Will there still be a Concertación left to join? The real political quesiton of the MEO campaign, then, is how will the political cookies crumble.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Tough on Clinton, Tougher on Obama

Tina Brown's piece uses extraordinary language to analyze the relationship between Hillary Clinton and President Obama. She calls Clinton a "foreign policy wife"! It seems that Washington insiders are all abuzz about the article, principally because it argues that Clinton is not the inner circle major player she may have hoped to be.

Far from being damaging to Clinton, though, I think the piece is terrifically tough on Obama, who is made out to be a sexist exploiter. Clinton is described as loyal, hard working and intelligent.

But so is a Golden Retriever.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

El asilo contra la opresión

The recent break in blogging is due in large measure to the fact that I was involved in the XXI World Congress of Political Science here in Santiago. Over two thousand political scientists, including Sartori, Morlino, Schmitter, Whitehead, Karl and Stepan, showed up. Plus Lagos, Jospin and President Bachelet.

What struck me about the congress was the difference with Latin American Studies Association congresses. The panels were all full of people, the papers were actually decent, and the number and quality of plenary sessions was far superior to anything LASA does, and far superior to what I had expected. Of course there are duds, but overall, it confirms that LASA, at least as far as political science participation, is in serious trouble.

Another impressive memory will be of a reception at the Moneda, where Michelle Bachelet held her own against a large group of political scientists, discussing chilean politics and history, in English. Other aspects of that visit will be mentioned elsewhere, but for me, that was really something. (The canapés were good too).

Finally, the Moneda visit as well as the closing ceremonies, where outgoing IPSA president choked up as she quoted the final words of the Chilean national anthem:

Sweet fatherland, accept the vows
With which Chile swore at your altars:
Either you'll be the tomb of the free
Or the refuge against oppression

Both those things highlighted just how important recent Chilean history has been for many colleagues, how central it has been to their work, their outlook, and their lives. Even if they have not worked directly on Chile, there is something about what took place here that continues to haunt the political science community, and it seems like it will be a generation before that changes.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Making Sense of Sarah

Too much ink has been spilled on Sarah Palin. But since this is electronic, and therefore no ink is being spilled, here's a bit more:

One of the things that comes through in this Slate piece on Palin is that since she emerged on the national scene, everyone has been trying to make sense of her, in every sense of the term. Not only have the media, voters, and incredulous international observers been trying to make sense of her non-existent syntax, but of her, as a person and as a political phenomenon.

One of the questions that the emergence of the Marco Enríquez Ominiami candidacy in Chile raises is whether he actually represents a phenomenon. No matter how far off the mark Carlos Huneeus' public opinion polls are, he is right when he says that Ominami is not a phenomenon. He would be a phenomenon if there were evidence of massive public appeal (not 10 to 15%), of a movement developing around him, or if he truly came from nowhere to emerge as a viable presidential candidate. As a sitting deputy, married to a glamourous TV personality, as the son of a public icon, step-son of a senator, cousin of well known members of the Chilean elite, Enriquez Ominami did not come from nowhere.

Plus, he is smart, media savvy and coherent, at least in Spanish. Probably in French as well.

Palin, by contrast, was a phenomenon. She really did come from nowhere, and even though she was a governor, she was governor of a state that's in the middle of nowhere, and within that state she lived in a nowhere town. She was not the daughter of anyone (I suppose she was someone's daughter), and she was utterly unschooled in anything, including, apparently, English. As the recent Vanity Fair article shows, any claim that she was smarter or saner in private than her public persona would have us believe is simply untrue.

That she reached the heights she did, the following she built, the media attention she attracted, is amazing, and it makes her a phenomenon. It requires further study. Who, or what, catapulted her to the top? Her looks? Too sexist. Her political positions? Too radical, or undefined. Her party? Too divided. Her handling of the media? Maybe, when they weren't laughing at her.

It is a fascinating case study for contemporary American politics. That some members of her party still think she would be a good future candidate does not augur well for the Republicans or for American politics.

Monday, 6 July 2009

Raúl Kafka

From the "I wish Kafka was alive to see this" file:

The coup in Honduras has been a farce from the beginning, but as Moises Naim points out, when Raúl Castro calls for a boycott of a country because of a non-democratic takeover, there's not much left to do but put out the popcorn, turn on CNN en Español, and enjoy the show.

Sunday, 5 July 2009


Scattered thoughts on Honduras:

1. It is probably obvious that as a result of the events of the last hours and days that the Organization of American States is utterly incapable of accomplishing anything, even of enforcing its own Democratic Charter. It is a talking shop, like the United Nations, but without the humanitarian aid. He's a great politician, but I'm afraid José Miguel Insulza has failed this test.

2. No one expects the the OAS to be able to excercise power, since it doesn't really have any. But Honduras also raises questions about the United States ability to impose excercise regional leadership. This is the result of years of neglect, but of something deeper.... it shows that when the going gets tough, the main instrument for American foreign policy in the region -- trade and other economic carrots -- don't work. No one wishes to return to the bad old days of covert activities, but some good old fashioned realpolitik wouldn't hurt right now.

3. In the power vacuum left by the USA, the UN, the OAS, and just about everyone else, look who has stepped in: In the last few minutes, after his failed attempt to land in Tegucigalpa, Zelaya has held a press conference flanked by the great democrats Rafael Correa, funder of Colombian terrorism; and Mrs K, who along with her wrinkles has had her ability to tell the truth (inflation, human influenza) surgically removed.

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Exit Stage (far) Right

Having been immersed in the small, insignificant details of academic administration, I didn't know that Sarah Palin had resigned until I read the paper this morning (how very last century, to find something out in the newspaper the day after it happens!!!). The first question was, of course, whether she was retiring from the governorship of Alaska to concentrate on national politics. I then went about doing a fairly long surf of my various online news sources and blogs, and the consensus seems to be that she is exiting, stage (far) right.

It is not a coincidence that Vanity Fair has a devastating piece on Palin's behaviour during last year's presidential campaign, which has fuelled renewed criticism in general of Palin's political position, her family's odd allegiances, and her general M.O.

Still, the normal thing to do in the face of this sort of criticism is to declare, LBJ-style, that she would not seek, nor accept, to run for another term. Instead, she is resigning, as if she were responding to some sort of scandal (one possiblity is that a scandal is about to break). It's very odd, and she is probably letting down a lot of the fringe Republicans who were hoping she represents the future of the Republican Party.

Which leads to the final point. The Vanity Fair piece makes clear that the Republicans started imploding during the campaign, a process which has only intensified since they lost. The problem with the Republican Party is not Sarah Palin or other illiterates like her. The problem is that many in the party think the future lies with them. Until they figure that out, they're nowhere. Even more nowhere than Wasilla.

Weeks on Sullivan

One of the blogs I regularly peruse is Andrew Sullivan's. I got hooked during the American presidential campaign, when he relentlessly went after Sarah Palin (more on which in a moment). In fact, he still does. I don't agree with a lot of Sullivan's stuff, but it is rare to find such a literate and passionate observer of (mostly) American politics. It probably has to do with the fact that he is, or once was, British.

I was thrilled, then, to see that Sullivan, or a guest blogger, has caught on to Greg Weeks' blog, which, as Sullivan says, has done a bang up job of following events in Honduras.