Feel the Love II

Updating the last post– Tim Padgett writes for Time (web exclusive):

President George W. Bush shouldn’t have been too surprised by the angry — and ultimately violent — welcome he received Friday at the 4th Summit of the Americas in Mar del Plata, Argentina. After pledging during his 2000 election campaign to correct Washington’s indifference to Latin America, the president is viewed as having all but turned his back on the region after most Latin American capitals declined to back his invasion of Iraq. But Bush’s hemispheric cold shoulder has backfired: It created a political vacuum that has been largely filled by neo-leftists like Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who was expected to join tens of thousands of raucous demonstrators Friday marching through Mar del Plata to denounce Bush and his all-but-doomed efforts to forge a hemispheric free trade pact.

Far from being the mejor amigo he promised to be, Bush today is arguably more unpopular in Latin America than any U.S. president in history. In Argentina’s capital, Buenos Aires, a recent poll showed 64% have a poor or very poor opinion of him. Elsewhere in the region, Bush’s approval rating usually falls below 25%. Part of the problem is broad opposition to the Iraq war; another is the perception that Bush is a Monroe Doctrine throwback to heavy-handed U.S. interventionism in the region. That image caught fire after the Bush Administration was widely accused of backing a failed coup against Chavez in 2002 (a charge the White House denies). Fuel was added last summer when conservative televangelist Pat Robertson — a high-profile supporter of President Bush — publicly called for Chavez’s assassination. (Robertson has since apologized.) Chavez is a democratically elected President, but his close friendship with Cuba’s Fidel Castro, his own flirtations with autocratic government and his recently declared interest in acquiring nuclear technology have Washington bristling. As a result, the fiery Chavez and his growing number of supporters around the region remain vocally convinced that Bush is out to kill him.

Note this part about F.T.A.A.:

But Bush’s biggest south-of-the-border PR problem is economic. Even before the start of the November 4-5 Summit, devoted to combating poverty and creating jobs, Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela and other Latin nations banded together to nudge Washington’s Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) proposal off the agenda. The move, which has angered the Bush Administration, reflects growing skepticism in Latin America over the virtues of free-market reforms, which many believe have simply widened the chasm between rich and poor in a region that already displays the world’s worst disparities in wealth.

To be fair, a lot of the economic problems in Latin America are the result of bad decisions and corruption in Latin America going back to the time of the Conquistadors.

The article goes on to say that anti-Bush sentiment has sparked a neo-lefist revival in Latin America (way to go, Chimpy!).

Some on the Right Blogosphere noticed the protests and the fact Cindy Sheehan was there, somewhere–it’s not clear to me if she did much but show up. The rightie Gateway Pundit quotes Mexican President Vincente Fox as rebuking Chavez on F.T.A.A.

Mexican President Vicente Fox, a Bush ally, countered Chavez by saying a trade accord in the Americas will boost growth and should go ahead even if some countries refuse to join. Only about four or five nations are against it, and their opposition is “ideological,” Fox told reporters.

But Argentina, Brazil, and Venezuela are the big guns, economically speaking, aren’t they?

It’s not just Latin Americans crabbing at Bush. He’s also taking potshots from Canada.

Free trade in the Americas would be a powerful antidote for poverty – if everyone played by the rules, Prime Minister Paul Martin said here Friday in a veiled shot at U.S. President George W. Bush.

As the Summit of the Americas got underway in this fortified seaside town, Martin said Canada fully supports the U.S. push for an expanded Free Trade Area of the Americas. But he made a point of raising the simmering softwood lumber fight between the U.S. and Canada, just before a private meeting with Mexican President Vicente Fox.

“The fact is that President Fox, myself, President Bush, all of us believe strongly in the free trade of the Americas. But we know that it’s got to be based on rules – and rules that are listened to,” Martin said.

Rules? Bush thinks rules are for the little people.

Feel the Love

Latin Americans are greeting our president, in Argentina for the Summit of the Americas, with enthusiasm. The BBC reports:

Thousands of protesters chanting “Get out Bush” have thronged the streets of Mar del Plata, an Argentine beach town hosting the Summit of the Americas.

The US president and 33 other regional leaders are in town to discuss free trade and poverty, amid tight security. …

…The rally was held in a football stadium, after a mainly peaceful march though boarded-up streets.

Standing side by side with Argentine former football legend Diego Maradona, Mr[Hugo] Chavez told the crowd that the world’s eyes were upon them and the Americas.

Wearing a T-shirt accusing Mr Bush of war crimes, Maradona said: “Argentina is dignified. Let’s throw out Bush!”

Earlier protesters had surrounded a train that brought their comrades from Buenos Aires, among them Bolivian left-wing presidential candidate Evo Morales.

From CBC World News:

A crowd of 10,000 protesters chanting “Get out Bush!” swarmed the streets of this Argentine resort Friday, hours before the hemisphere’s leaders sat down to debate free trade, immigration and job creation.

Before dawn, thousands greeted a train bringing the last group of fellow demonstrators from Buenos Aires, including Bolivian presidential hopeful Evo Morales and soccer great Diego Maradona, who donned a T-shirt accusing U.S. President George W. Bush of war crimes.

Chanting “Fascist Bush! You are the terrorist!” the protesters hung from the engine and moved up the sides of the train, trying to shake hands with those inside.

Elisabeth Bumiller and Larry Rother report for the New York Times:

At a parallel “People’s Summit” in Mar del Plata on Thursday [see BBC photos], organized by a coalition of left-wing, indigenous and antiglobalization groups, American proposals on free trade also came in for criticism, as did Mr. Bush himself.

“We Said No and No Means No: No to Bush, No to F.T.A.A. and No to Repaying the Debt,” read one large banner at the conference, held in a group of tents and classrooms on the campus of a local university. Several thousand people attended.

“We’ve had enough of neo-liberalism and the damage it has inflicted on our societies,” said Juan Montenegro, who came from Buenos Aires to take part. “Bush is trying to destroy Iraq with bombs and guns and Latin America with an economic program that will rob us of our sovereignty.”

The “antisummit” began early in the week and is expected to culminate today in mass protest marches, led by Alfonso Pérez Esquivel, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, and Diego Maradona, the soccer idol. Mr. Chávez, with a foot in both of the gatherings here, is expected to be the main orator at a closing protest rally to be held at the main soccer stadium.

“F.T.A.A.” stands for Free Trade Area of the Americas, which is a proposal to unite the economies of the Americas into a single free trade area. This is a long-standing proposal that was also supported by President Clinton. I admit I am not well versed in the pros and cons of this proposal; anyone who wants to editorialize about it in the comments is welcome to do so.

However, as I understand it this area would include the U.S. I bet most American voters have never heard of it. And I bet most American voters would be enormously skeptical of it. It’d bite if F.T.A.A. were approved in Latin America but rejected in the U.S., huh?

Michael Fletcher writes for the Sydney Morning Herald:

The Bush Administration had hoped the meeting would help revive stalled plans for a Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), a zone that would stretch from Alaska to Argentina.

“From our point of view, the Free Trade Area of the Americas has defined the summit process,” said Thomas Shannon, the US assistant secretary of state for the western hemisphere.

But that message was at odds with the sentiment in much of Latin America, where millions of people have yet to realise the promised benefits of democratic governments and free trade.

Across the region, half a dozen populist leaders have been elected in recent years, often supported by constituencies that blame US-backed economic policies, private investment and international trade for poverty and inequality.

It’s too soon to tell if the F.T.A.A. proposal will make any headway during the summit.

Marchela Sanchez of the Washington Post writes
that most people of Latin America are tired of being caught between warring economic theories, whether Bush’s or Chavez’s.

As titillating as these activities on the sidelines of the summit may become, they will only serve to distract from the popular concerns that bring together the 34 elected leaders of the Americas — namely, to strengthen democracy and reduce poverty through job creation.

Indeed, the average Latin American is much less concerned with protesting against Washington, the war or Bush than in keeping his job and seeing his economic situation improve. More than in a battle of ideas, he or she is engaged in a day-to-day struggle to succeed in a democratic system.

New economic, social and political experiments, like the kind Chavez is pushing, are not gaining a foothold in Latin America. After 10 years of polling, the Chilean firm Latinobarometro concluded last week that Latin Americans are sold on democracy as a way of life. And even though in the last three years popular approval of democracy has not budged from 53 percent, Latin Americans are not actively seeking out alternatives. In fact a large majority say market economies (63 percent) and the private sector (59 percent) are what will help their countries develop.

As Marta Lagos, head of Latinobarometro put it, “people in Latin America are no longer interested in buying the dreams offered by extreme ideologies.'” Rather, she said, “they want to buy refrigerators.”

Cindy Sheehan is in Argentina with the protesters, which appears to me to be a bad move on her part. Outside the U.S. leftist extremism can actually get extreme, and Sheehan could lose credibility in America if she becomes too closely tied to far left anti-Americanism abroad.

The Right Blogosphere hasn’t picked up on this yet, however, probably because at the moment they are having a high ol’ time making fun of France.

Anyway–Nedra Pickler writes for the AP that Bush is trying to improve America’s image in Latin America. Fat chance. Marcela Sanchez of WaPo writes,

More than the Iraq war, it is Bush’s failure to recognize the maturation of democracy south of the Rio Grande that has increased popular disapproval. Regional democracies, most of them in their third decade of existence, have grown beyond the simplicity of left-right, either-or choices. Still, Bush’s war against terror and his obsession with Chavez and Cuban leader Fidel Castro suggest to Latin Americans that his administration’s frame of reference is still purely ideological and unevolved.

In other words, Bush’s Great White Father act is not winning ’em over. Maybe next time he’ll send Karen Hughes.

Home Alone III

The Bush Administration’s downward spiral continues. A new Washington Post/CBS News poll shows Bush’s popularity at another new low; 58 percent question his integrity.

The question at hand is: What’s he gonna do about it?

Many’s the cable news bobblehead who says that he can come back from such a popularity low. Reagan did it, they say. Other presidents have done it. It can be done.

Yes, it can be done. But not by George W. Bush.

Last May I wrote that Bush is a one-trick pony. Bush and his circle of enablers found a way to bamboozle the public into accepting a spoiled, lazy frat boy as their glorious leader. Their trick worked really well, for a long time. But now that the public is catching on, they don’t have another trick.

Five months ago Peter Baker and Jim VandeHei wrote at WaPo that Bush had spent his political capital. From May 31, 2005:

Through more than four years in the White House, the signature of Bush’s leadership has been that he does not panic in the face of bad poll numbers. Yet many Republicans on Capitol Hill and in the lobbyist corridor of K Street worry about a season of drift and complain that the White House has not listened to their concerns. In recent meetings, House Republicans have discussed putting more pressure on the White House to move beyond Social Security and talk up different issues, such as health care and tax reform, according to Republican officials who asked not to be named to avoid angering Bush’s team.

“There is a growing sense of frustration with the president and the White House, quite frankly,” said an influential Republican member of Congress. “The term I hear most often is ‘tin ear,’ ” especially when it comes to pushing Social Security so aggressively at a time when the public is worried more about jobs and gasoline prices. “We could not have a worse message at a worse time.”

Baker and VandeHei quoted conservative “pundits” who were as clueless as the White House. For example, Newt Gingrich advised that Bush focus harder on “personal” Social Security accounts, and Bill Kristol thought that pushing through John Bolton’s nomination for UN ambassador would be just the thing to rally the public. Can we say, “out of touch”?

The Bushies continued to party until Katrina broke in and flipped on the lights. Now we’re two months past Katrina, and the Bushies still show no signs of being able to update their act.

At Salon, Sidney Blumenthal writes that the Bush’s famous “bubble,” which protected him from all unpleasantness, has turned into a bunker:

His nomination of his White House legal counsel Harriet Miers for the Supreme Court was an acknowledgment of his sharply narrowed political space. Bush believed he could thread the needle with her because her record was unknown. While the Republican masses supported him, the Leninist right staged a revolt. In Bush’s cronyism and opportunism, they saw his deviation. He was the disloyalist. With the prosecutor’s indictment imminent, Bush withdrew Miers and caved. Broadly unpopular, he could not suffer a split right. His new nominee, federal Judge Samuel Alito, a reliable sectarian, is a tribute to his bunker strategy.

Hostage to his failed fortune, Bush is a prisoner of the right. His administration has become its own little republic of fear. Libby’s public trial will reveal the administration’s political methods. Cheney, along with a host of others, will be called to testify. Whatever other calamities may befall Bush, their specter harries him to the right. “Disunity, dissolution and vacillation” are hallmarks of “the path of conciliation,” as Lenin wrote in “What Is to Be Done.” The vanguard on “the path of struggle,” criticized for being “an exclusive group,” must oppose any retreat proposed by the “opportunist rearguard.” “We are marching in a compact group along a precipitous and difficult path, firmly holding each other by the hand. We are surrounded on all sides by enemies, and we have to advance almost constantly under their fire.”

Bush’s last refuge is a place light years to the right of the American mainstream. From there, he has no where to go but down.

Also: Today’s Paul Krugman, online. You will enjoy this. Pass it on.