The Lonely Centrist

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Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The American Left and the Mexican Election

Mexico's razor close presidential election, in which the Center-Right candidate Felipe Calderon scored a narrow victory over leftist Andres Lopez Obrador, has sparked a number of recent articles comparing it to the United States' 2000 election. These articles tell us much about a portion of the United States' political left, and it is not good.

For example, William Greider writes in the Nation that we should, "keep an open mind about whether López Obrador's charges of election fraud are substantive or, as the media suggest, farfetched." Grieder warns us not to "take at face value what you read in the leading American newspapers about Mexico's cliffhanger election outcome," which he labels as "disgusting." You know, all those right wing papers - Grieder specifically singles out the notoriously right-wing Washington Post and New York Times. And you have to wonder, what is this guy smoking.

Grieder confirms that he has been smoking something when he then claims that, "If the votes had been fairly, thoroughly recounted there in 2000, Gore would be the "next President." That's not what any of the media recounts found, but no matter - perhaps Grieder is in the "reality based community."

Although Grieder cites to no evidence of fraud, other than Obrador's own, unsubstantiated claims, he knows that Obrador is, "right to demand a full accounting of the real results." But how does Grieder know that hasn't happened? Mexico's Federal Election Tribunal, a non-partisan, widely respected body, says it has done exactly that. Teams of European observers found no problems with the elections or the tallying of ballots ("Javier Solana, the European Union's High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, said the EU has every confidence in Mexico's electoral institutions. ") Yet Grieder suggests that if the results are not overturned, "the common people [will] fall short of full justice." In other words, the only results that will suffice for Greider would be ones declaring Obrador the winner.

Meanwhile, in an article in yesterday's Washington Post, Ron Klain, former general counsel to Al Gore, strikes similar themes. In fact, Klain specifically urges Obrador to take "divisive action," and to, "call his supporters to the streets." Most stunningly, Klain calls on Obrador to demand "recounts," "notwithstanding Mexican law," and to "insist that any fair count would show that he is the rightful winner," without regard to whether or not that is true.

This is stunning stuff. While I hate the modern quick step to accusing politicians of all stripes of "fascism" or comparing people to "Hitler" or "Nazis," I simply have to say that, as a simple matter of history, Klain's prescription sounds remarkly like someone advising Benito Mussolini to march on Rome. The law and the facts be damned - Obrador must be declared the winner. Any other result is ipso facto illegitimate.

Klain then goes off into a highly partisan and sometimes counterfactual description of the 2000 election controversy. But what's interesting is that he tells us that Gore resisted advice (Klain's?) to "claim victory," to call on his supporters to engage in "street protests," and to "question the legitimacy" of courts and those counting ballots when they ruled against him. (Some would say that Gore and his supporters did all that - the day after the election, his campaign manager, Bill Daily, famously declared that "if the will of the people is to prevail," Gore would have to be declared the winner - regardless of the actual Florida count, or Florida law; Meanwhile, Jesse Jackson organized street protests.) But what's remarkable is that Klain really thinks that would have worked - and is willing to pay most any price to have made it work.

It seems to me that both Grieder and Klain exhibit a deep problematic aspect that afflicts much of the American left. While purporting to be the party of the people, the left has a definite difficulty with democratic results it doesn't like. Thus it contests elections it loses as "illegitimate," and as justifying what in essence is a counter-legal assumption of power; it relies heavily on courts to implement too many of its policy preferences; and it frankly has difficulty accepting facts that indicate that the "people" have sided with the bad guys. To too many on the American left, the will of the people is not to be determined through constitutional, representational processes, but through a mystical "will of the people" that exists apart from actual election results. This is not healthy at a time when a meaningful alternative to Bush Republicanism is badly needed.

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