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Monday, January 19, 2009

Lo que piensan (What they think)

Ken Kerr Bio

One advantage of learning a second language is that you can find out what people think—not what the English-language newspapers tell you they think, but what the people actually tell you they think. I returned Sunday from three weeks in Buenos Aires. I visited with old friends and made new friends. Inevitable, the conversation would turn to politics.

There are two main topics to these conversations: George Bush and Barack Obama.

It is not easy to explain George Bush. Argentines are genuinely confused as to how we could have elected George Bush. They are completely baffled as to how we re-elected him. As completely as my Spanish skills allowed, I explained the questionable voting in Florida and the Gore v. Bush Supreme Court decision. That satisfied most as to the question of the first time, but how did it happen twice? I told them he took advantage of Americans' fear. The landlady of the apartment I was renting replied that in re-electing him, we made the world have fear. The words "loco" and "Diablo" often came up when talking about Bush.

Argentines think the current world financial crisis rests at Bush's feet as well. Their Peso has fallen from 3:1 against the Dollar to 3.5:1 while they have seen inflation of 30% a year. As the world's second-largest exporter of corn and soy (behind the US) the world-wide recession has seen exports drop. A prolonged drought has made a suffering agri-conomy worse with dried up fields and 300,000 dead beef cattle. The failure of huge sectors of the US financial system could not have come at a worse time.

A friend, a retired Argentine diplomat, was surprised when I told him how much I disliked the president and asked me why. I told him of Karl Rove's push polling in South Carolina that derailed McCain's 2000 bid and the arm's length endorsement of T. Boone Pickens's "Swift Boating" of Kerry's 2004 presidential candidacy. I went on with claiming mandates he did not have, eroding citizens' rights, his Oedipal-complex-inspired Iraq war financed by Chinese debt while giving tax cuts to the wealthy. At the end of my tirade, he responded, "We didn't know any of that."

At a dinner-gathering of two families in the home of another friend, I was asked if Bush has dyslexia. "Can he read?" was how bluntly they put it. These people cannot speak English, yet they got the sense that our president has a learning disability.

The Argentine impression of Barack Obama was also surprising. When I arrived at the airport and the driver was loading my luggage, he saw my "Educators for Obama" pin on my carry on. He pointed to it and said, "El Salvador." My retired diplomat friend, however, said, "I think he is a demagogue."

Your browser may not support display of this image.Argentines have a strong sense that there is racial tension in the USA. A waiter in the café said, "But many Americans don't like Obama." I asked him why he thought that and he stroked his cheek and said, "The color of his skin." He was not the only one who asked about American racial bigotry. I tried to assure them that the issue of race has gotten better in the USA, and it is not the problem it once was. I am not sure they believed me.

Many, many Argentines asked if I was afraid that Obama will be assassinated. I told them that we can't worry about that. I told them that Americans are tired of being afraid; that our fear has not helped us in these past seven years. I told them that whatever happens, Barack Obama's election says good things about the United States. "Es un buen día para los Estados Unidos," I said. A man I spoke with in the little neighborhood restaurant, El Rincon, replied, "El tiempo lo dirá."

"Time will tell."


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1 comment:

Jim French said...

If one ever wondered what El Diablo might look like in human form, he only needs to encounter Dick Cheney.