Barack Obama, upon taking office in January 2009, had decided to
deliver on his campaign promise "to end business-as-usual in Washington
so we can bring about real change."
Imagine that he rejected the
architects of the pro-Wall Street policies that had led to economic
collapse, such as Larry Summers, Tim Geithner and the stable of former
Goldman Sachs employees that runs the U.S Treasury Department, and
instead appointed Nobel laureate economists Paul Krugman and Joe
Stiglitz to key positions, including the chairmanship of the Federal
Instead of Hillary Clinton, who lost the Democratic
presidential primary because of her unrelenting support for the Iraq
war, imagine that he chose Sen. Russ Feingold (D.-Wis.) for secretary
of state, or someone else interested in delivering on the popular
desire to get out of Afghanistan. Imagine a real health-care-reform
bill, instead of health-insurance reform, that didn't give the powerful
pharmaceutical and insurance lobbies a veto.
It goes without
saying that President Obama would be vilified in the major media
outlets. The seething hostility from right-wing blowhards such as Glenn
Beck and Rush Limbaugh would be matched by more mainstream media
outlets, who would accuse the president of polarizing the nation and
"dangerous demagoguery." With almost all of the establishment media and
institutions against him, Obama would likely face a constant battle for
political survival -- although he might well triumph with direct,
populist appeals to the majority.
This is what has happened to a number of the left-of-center governments in Latin America.
In Ecuador, President Rafael Correa was re-elected by a large margin
in 2009, despite strong opposition from the country's media.
Bolivia, Evo Morales has brought stability and record growth to a
country that had a tradition of governments that didn't last more than
a year -- despite the most hostile media in the hemisphere and
unrelenting, sometimes violent opposition from Bolivia's traditional
* Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez survived a U.S.-backed
military coup attempt and other efforts to topple his government,
winning three presidential elections, each time by a larger margin.
of these presidents took on entrenched oligarchies and fought hard to
deliver on their promises. Morales, Bolivia's first indigenous
president in a country with an indigenous majority, re-nationalized the
hydrocarbons -- mostly natural gas -- industry and created jobs through
public investment, as well as getting a new, more democratic
constitution approved. Correa doubled spending on health care and
cancelled $3.2 billion of foreign debt found to be illegitimate. Chavez
cut poverty in half and extreme poverty by more than 70 percent after
getting control over the country's oil industry.
faced another obstacle that Obama wouldn't have -- they had to fight
with the most powerful country in the world in order to deliver on
their promises. This was also true of President Nestor Kirchner in
Argentina (2003-07), who had to battle the Washington-dominated
International Monetary Fund in order to implement the economic policies
that made Argentina the fastest growing economy in the hemisphere for
Of course, Hugo Chavez has been the most demonized in
the U.S. media -- but that is not because of what he has said or done
but because he is sitting on 500 billion barrels of oil. Washington has
a particular problem with oil-producing states that don't follow orders
-- whether they are a dictatorship like Iraq, a theocracy like Iran, or
a democracy like Venezuela.
All of these leaders -- including
President Lula da Silva of Brazil -- had hoped that President Obama
would pursue a more enlightened policy toward Latin America, but it
hasn't happened. It seems that Washington, which was comfortable with
dictators and oligarchs who ran the show for decades, still has
problems with democracy in its former "backyard."