Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Today in Specious Arguments: Lula's Absence at the G20 Destroyed Brazil's Economic Power!

Although editorials like this are all too common and don't surprise, their absurdity never ceases to amaze me. I always marvel at how far some will stretch in order to attack Lula, even when all other evidence suggests their arguments are wrong. Are there good reasons to criticize Lula? Absolutely. It's completely fair to say that his environmental record is at best "not good." Although I wouldn't fully agree, you could also suggest that he did not go far enough with his social programs, and that he compromised too many of his ideals to become president.

But to go after Lula because he skipped June's G-20 to deal with domestic disaster is facile and ridiculous. First, there is the fact that there is very little concrete evidence to suggest that Lula's absence has doomed Brazil. The author provides a lot of conjecture, but no actual evidence of damage. Could Lula's absence possibly be a problem down the line? Theoretically, I suppose so; but the idea that missing deals that could have taken place at one meeting across two days in June will reduce Brazil's economy and political presence globally is not only ridiculous; it's insulting to the expert diplomats Brazil has throughout the world to suggest that their efforts are undone just because a president missed a meeting due to issues at home. And there is absolutely no reason, politically, economically, or historically, to believe that the window that was open for opportunity for economic deals on June 26-27 will magically be closed on October 22-23, when the G20 meets again. Arguing that Lula's absence has caused irreparable damage to Brazil's standing in the global economy and politics is not just specious; it's patently absurd.
And on those issues at's not like Lula dodged the meeting to vacation, or get some fake honorary title or something. There were horrible floods in Brazil; dozens were killed, and thousands more displaced. And this was almost simultaneous with the G-20 meeting. It's not like Lula waited to respond until it was too late. What is more, I just don't buy the "he skipped the G-20 for a few more votes at home argument," for several reasons. First, being president isn't the same as being head of the national bank; Lula has other duties besides economic deal-making. Taking care of his constituents is arguably at the top of the list of presidential duties. Surveying the damage and trying to help alleviate Brazilians' suffering through executive decision-making is probably more important than economic deals that can come later. I imagine most presidents or prime ministers would agree that domestic disasters take precedence over international meetings; you are elected by and serve your country's civilians, not the leaders and deal-makers of other countries.
Finally, this idea that Lula skipped the meetings for "a few more votes at home" is absurd. A) He's not running for re-election. Sure, you could suggest he did it to garner support for the PT's candidate, Dilma Rousseff; certainly, he's been very present in drumming up support for her. But the flooding happened in Brazil's Northeast, an area where Lula got 66% of the vote in 2006 (nearly propelling him to a first-round victory), an area where the PT has traditionally done very well. It's not like this was some opportunity to try to shore up support where Lula and the PT had traditionally lacked it, and to suggest as much is to effectively ignore both regional politics and the social conditions in the Northeast.
In short, this is one of the worst types of editorializing, relying not only on doom-and-gloom predictions based on hypotheses with no grounding in historical realities and gross simplifications of complex negotiations, but also turning to conjecture that ignores social realities and political practicality (who is the president supposed to serve?) in order to launch yet another smear campaign.