International Papers

I’m the President of the World!

The international press is treating Tuesday’s contest between Al Gore and George W. Bush as a world election. El País and ABC of Spain; the Observer, Independent on Sunday, the Financial Times, and the Scotsman of Britain; and Clarín of Argentina all ran pieces reminding readers of the differences between the two “gray” men.

In the Americas, El Universal of Mexico noted, “Both [candidates] chatter in Spanish and profess a genuine friendship with Mexico, although Bush as a Texan has a wider knowledge of and experience with Mexican affairs—although this doesn’t necessarily mean that his positions are more favorable to us. And, yes, he has a sister-in-law from Guanajuato.” El Tiempo of Colombia asked which candidate would be the least bad, concluding, “It has been a while in American politics … since we’ve seen such uninspiring figures. … It isn’t surprising, therefore, that people are uninterested—or annoyed.”

An op-ed in Britain’s Observer painted a negative picture of a Bush presidency:

Bush and the coalition of the Business Roundtable, National Rifle Association (NRA) and Christian Right which supports him are indifferent to the gross inequalities that disfigure American life; the mushrooming of millions of “gated” communities at the top and the harsh insecurity at the bottom. … [T]hey would advance inequality with across-the-board tax cuts that favour the rich, entrench gun ownership, weaken what is left of universal medical and pension provision, and cut corporate interests free of what little regulation remains. It is sheer poison.

The British papers noted that Prime Minister Tony Blair’s hopes for a Gore victory are based on more than ideology. An op-ed in the Sunday Times described Blair’s worst fears: “[W]hat if you give the people eight years of supercharged economic growth and moderate policies? What if you don’t get into trouble abroad and your government is reasonably competent? And yet still the voters reject you?” In the Independent on Sunday, Godfrey Hodgson predicted:

With Bush in the White House, the “special relationship” between London and Washington would go back to what it was before Clinton and Blair: an asymmetrical relationship, dangerously important to British politicians and mildly embarrassing to their American counterparts.

Finally, the Brits made a virtue of Bush’s perceived dimness. The Telegraph noted: “Ronald Reagan took naps every afternoon and brought down the Soviet Union. Conversely, the smartest guys—Woodrow Wilson, Jimmy Carter—have been the most disastrous presidents.” Meanwhile, in the “not sure that’s a good thing” department, the Observer reported that Bush would tie with Herbert Hoover as the most highly educated president of the last 80 years.

Follow-up corner, Part 1, the Philippines: The Oct. 23 “International Papers” column described impeachment moves in the Philippines that seemed doomed because of President Joseph Estrada’s majority in both houses of Congress. Last week, several key members of Estrada’s Party of the Filipino Masses (LAMP) resigned from the ruling coalition, putting the number of House members ready to vote for impeachment well above the necessary 73. The South China Morning Post of Hong Kong declared, “Estrada’s exit: it’s not if, but when.” On Monday the paper speculated that Estrada may be considering exile, and the International Herald Tribune reported Saturday that Vice President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who would succeed Estrada, has already started choosing her Cabinet.

This weekend, more than 80,000 demonstrators, including leaders of the 1986 “people power” movement that overthrew Ferdinand Marcos, rallied against Estrada. The Sydney Morning Herald disavowed the parallel between 1986 and 2000, however. It said, “Estrada may be a crook but he is not a monster. He may be corrupt and a master of patronage politics, but he was democratically elected. He has said he is prepared to submit to a Senate trial, or a referendum. That was not the Marcos style.” The Manila Times was also skeptical about the popular uprising: “The Constitution prescribes a method, impeachment, for the removal of a leader of perceived, or proven, incompetence. Abandoning that procedure has dangerous implications for the republic—it chips away at the foundation of governance: the rule of law.” An editorial in the same paper stated that any end to the crisis other than impeachment would leave the president’s supporters feeling aggrieved and cheated, whereas, “A speedy but just and thorough impeachment trial will give the Republic an opportunity to experience another—a deeper level—of democratic responsibility.”

Follow-up corner, Part 2, Peru: The political situation in Peru has become even more unstable since Swiss authorities froze $48 million in three bank accounts belonging to former spy chief Vladimiro Montesinos on suspicion that the money came from money-laundering and other illicit activities. In response to the revelation, President Alberto Fujimori appointed a special prosecutor to investigate Montesinos’ overseas accounts. The Financial Times said, “The real danger now for Peru’s leader is the risk that a Watergate-style probe could turn up evidence that incriminates not only the ex-spy chief but the president himself—forcing him to stand down immediately and not in nine months time as planned.” The size of Montesinos’ stash led many papers, including La Tercera of Colombia, to conclude that the spy chief was taking protection money from the drug dealers he was charged with investigating. El País of Spain also claimed that Montesinos profited from illegal arms dealing—including the sale of arms intended for the Peruvian military to Colombian guerrillas.

Frisson or fear? According to the Hindustan Times, scientists from the University of the West of England found that Margaret Thatcher stimulates a deeper emotional response in British politicians than provocative pictures do. “Using an ‘arousal monitor,’ British scientists showed a selection of images to 25 politicians and 25 members of the public. The images included a picture of Tony Blair, of a lesbian kiss, a spider, a semi-naked man and [a] woman and a view of an operating table.” Thatcher provoked the strongest reaction in 80 percent of the pols, whereas members of the public responded more to the semi-naked woman and the spider. Questions: What was the gender breakdown of the study, who funded it, and why?