PANAMA — Watching America’s quirky electoral process from abroad always has special piquancy. In many countries, including little Panama, whoever becomes president of the United States often has more influence over these nations than their own leaders.
I used to get lots of mail from American conservatives fretting the wicked Red Chinese had taken over the Panama Canal. That’s because a Hong Kong multinational bought the company that runs the Canal’s port operations.
Panama has been taken over, all right, not by Reds, but by American retirees fueling condo mania. I liked sinister Panama better under “old pineapple face,” Gen. Manuel Noriega, with its cutthroats, crooks, gun runners, and evil women, a sunny place for shady people, to paraphrase Maugham. Today, it’s Republican golfers, and they were just delighted by John McCain’s victory in New Hampshire.
This column is less enthusiastic. Candidates who dared tell Americans the truth — Republican Ron Paul, Democrat Dennis Kucinich — were marginalized. Two capable, experienced senators, Joe Biden and Chris Dodd, were ignored by Iowa’s subsidy farmers and Protestant Evangelical fundamentalists. Smart, worldly Bill Richardson trailed badly.
Many Americans don’t want politicians who tell them hard truths. They prefer politicos offering blarney and roses, or who stoke mindless testosterone nationalism.
Senator John McCain appears an exception. New Hampshire voters, usually a sober, serious lot, chose him for his resolute character, plain speaking, and experience. He has both gravitas and wit. The senator is a genuine war hero and courageous patriot in contrast to the Bush Administration’s other bloodthirsty, wartime draft-dodgers.
But McCain is further to the far right than Bush and Cheney and often sounds like a dangerous crank on foreign policy. He is an old-time imperialist who wants to wage jihad against the Muslim World and keep the Pentagon running foreign policy.
In the exciting Democratic race, Hillary Clinton’s last minute, carefully contrived tears on TV moved female voters to give her victory over Iowa winner, Barack Obama.
That’s a shame. Obama represents a new wave of more truthful, forthright politics America badly needs. The Clintons are vintage machine politicians with a tawdry record of sleazy financial and personal behavior. Hillary, who oozed in every direction on important issues, is as slippery as an Alabama mud fish. No politician who voted for the obscene Iraq War deserves re-election, starting with Hillary.
Then there is Rev. Mike Huckabee, anointed by the Evangelical Taliban far right. Like other Republicans, he has been urging more war abroad. Someone should remind Friar Huck that Christians are supposed to turn the other cheek, not wage oil crusades.
At least scary Rudy Giuliani has so far fared badly. But he is waiting for Florida’s Jewish and Cuban voters to supercharge his campaign. New York’s former mayor is surrounded by fanatical neoconservative foreign policy advisors from the ultra far right who urge “World War IV” against the Muslim World. The last thing America’s battered foreign policy needs is more direction from the semi-fascist neocons who created its current disasters.
Mitt Romney, however robotic, and John Edwards merit respect for their fierce, tireless, though so far unsuccessful campaigns. Both are highly capable men, but they failed to excite voters. Boos to lazy Fred Thompson, as poor a campaigner as an actor.
The next bunch of primaries this and next month will determine the presidential race. America desperately needs strong, intelligent leadership. It faces recession at home and a disaster area abroad, thanks to the blundering stupidities of the Bush/Cheney White House and a gutless Congress. The Republican Party needs liberation from the Southern know-nothings and Protestant Evangelical fundamentalists that have hijacked it.
Unfortunately, neither Hillary Clinton nor Obama have the experience the presidency demands. If Hillary wins the Democratic nomination, it’s likely the Republican candidate may defeat her. Most men can’t stand her, and there are enough sensible women who won’t support her just because she is female. Tears may only work once.
Meanwhile, “old pineapple face” Noriega has served his full 17-year term in a Miami jail for cocaine trafficking. But the Bush Administration is trying to keep him silent by sending him to France to face further charges of money laundering. Washington fear’s Panama’s former dictator will reveal how he worked for the CIA and trafficked drugs to support US-backed Contras in Nicaragua.