Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Too Optimistic

Lots of people in the US seem to be struggling to develop opinions on Peña Nieto all of a sudden, which has led to some odd takes Mr. Angélica Rivera. For instance, this piece from Michael Werz and Eric Farnsworth, which asserts:
His record as governor of the State of Mexico received solid marks, despite inevitably coming under fire during the campaign, especially by critical Internet activists and protesting students.
That's quite a broad claim, and it has the added feature of painting the critics of Peña Nieto as mindless rabble-rousers. If only! If you want to hold the executive responsible for crime, then Peña Nieto deserves good marks for not letting his state's murder rate climb. Yet kidnapping, rape, robbery, and (most famously) murders of women increased substantially under Peña Nieto. Mexico State had the nation's largest increase in extreme poverty during the world financial crisis, with 214,000 more people suffering from nutritional poverty in 2010 compared to two years prior. His maneuvering ahead of the 2011 election to replace him was patently anti-democratic. While Calderón and Ebrard were both at their best during the initial Swine Flu scare, appearing seemingly hourly on the television to calm the nation, Peña Nieto all but disappeared. His performance during the Paulette scandal, the other moment when the nation was waiting for him to act, was no better. And according to his political opponents, he left the state with a debt of roughly $6 billion.

In short, his actual governing performance (as opposed to his political performance as governor) was pretty bad. To make the opposite case, especially as blithely as the authors above do, is to ignore all of the above (any many other issues), which amounts to a not insignificant list of black marks.

Then there's this line:
Peña Nieto’s next-generation image is a solid foundation, but observers will closely scrutinize the advisors appointed to surround him.
Actually, an image is pretty close to the opposite of a foundation, both literally and in this metaphorical Mexican context. A solid foundation would be, say, a proposal for a revamped industrial policy, or a detailed understanding of Southern Mexico's infrastructure problems and how to fix them. That we haven't seen from Peña Nieto, and I can't help but think we would have if he were capable.

I'm probably not as pessimistic as others about the next six years, but that's just because there are so many factors at play that we can't anticipate that it's really impossible to guess whether Mexico will be better or worse off in six years than today. Many of these factors go well beyond who is occupying Los Pinos. But the fact that people seriously point to his image as a foundation for his capacity to govern tells all we need to know about the man today. It's worth trying to avoid undue pessimism, but that absolutely does not mean that Peña Nieto provides much reason for optimism.

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