The Question: The U.S. starts to choose a president this week. If you could send the candidates one message, what would it be?
Congratulations, candidate. You are already better than the president you are about to replace. Whoever you are, whatever you believe, you will inaugurate a new era with less fundamentalism in national security issues, with more responsibility toward environmental issues, with stronger multilateralism, with more empathy to other nations’ people. You are lucky. It will be easy to be wiser than the man in charge now.
“Change” should be your key word. This word, by the way, doesn’t belong to only one candidate. Things have to change in many ways, in many areas, for many reasons. Make a fair endeavor to be more cooperative in the international arena. On climate change issues, accept some responsibility for making a difference when analysts confront the old and new American commitments in the global arena. By coincidence – or luck – your power will coincide with the world’s negotiations toward a post-Kyoto agreement. You will be in the right place, in the right moment, to lead the process that will safeguard our lives on the planet.
It will be easy to pay more attention than your predecessor did to my region Latin America, and its global and regional agenda. U.S. and Latin American priorities have grown so far apart that leaders here are starting to find Washington’s neglect to be an advantage: it means less trouble. To be smarter in the relationship with your neighbors from the South, understand a few simple points: we are not all the same; each country has a distinct history, political process and outlook. Hugo Chavez is not the leading actor in the region; Cuba is just a small Caribbean island close to Miami, not the region’s most important country, much less its agenda-setter. If you pay attention to these three elementary points you will do much better among Latin American nations than your predecessor.
See how lucky you are? The American economy is in trouble now. However, the worst period will be 2008, “you know who’s” last year in charge. There is a good chance of recovery from 2009 onwards. It gives you an opportunity to say: I did it; my administration made the recovery possible.
There is no such a thing as free lunch, as you well know. It falls upon you to find a final solution for two disastrous wars, but you have the advantage of not having started these wars. Even if you have supported them with your vote, you could always say that it was because you were thinking only about making the world a safer place to live, but that you strongly disagree with “his” methods, strategy and priorities; or his lack of them.
A last advice: be yourself. If you are a woman, don’t try to behave like a man in order to be acceptable to those who hold prejudice against your gender. If you are black, never say “I am not that black”, as Colin Powell once said. You may have to convince the Caucasians that you will govern for all Americans, always being exactly who you are, because that is the way to be true. If you are a conservative Republican, neither pretend to be a liberal, nor become complacent with your predecessor’s blunders. “Bushism” is not the only way to be a conservative Republican; it is only the worst one. Good luck.
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