Tehran, Iran -- Election promises in Mexico are a reminder that democratic debate has given way to the marketing of fear. In turn, empty one-liners have replaced doctrines, platforms and serious business plans. However, there is no ideological alternative to stand against sound market economies and an interconnected world.
From the Philippines to Thailand, Iran, Turkey, Russia, Eastern Europe, and points in the West, candidates charge constituents with emotional one-liners to grab their attention and votes. This tactic is more successful in countries where the state is more likely to intervene in the economy and the delivery of healthcare and education. Some candidates play the nationalist tune while others choose a populist format. The interconnected world has led all politicians to have shifty, fluid positions so instant adjustments are no longer taboo in the business of politics.
This all owes itself to a very successful American formula: send simplified messages, quip a cut-down of the competitor's topic and don't wait for a response. Ronald Reagan, blue and red charts, and his humorous one-liners have taken over the style of politics. Margaret Thatcher owed her victory to in-your-face messages and brilliant advertising, not her rare town meetings. Romano Prodi reworked his leftist message of the 1990s and was rewarded with the leadership of Italy last spring. Polls have pushed aside referendums. Debate has given way to confrontation.
A democratic process and a fair election in Mexico should not worry the most powerful consumer in the world. Markets tend to set their own terms. The bigger worry is whether democracy and market practices will lead Latin America to private ownership and free enterprise.
The NAFTA partners today ought to revisit the lessons of Europe. The EEC of the 1970's and 1980's was a cooperative forum among politicians from a wide political spectrum -- from Mitterrand's deep socialist agenda to Thatcher's new right all under a looming Cold War. None of their differences stood in the way of producing Airbus, the Channel Tunnel or trading with Yugoslavia and Romania. They set aside confrontation and this eventually led to the European Community.
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