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Mexico Election: The Defeat Of The Latin Left

By Dick Morris and Eileen Mc Gann

By narrowly electing centrist Felipe Calderon as its new President and defeating leftist candidate Andreas Manuel Lopez Obrador, the Mexican electorate has prevented the Chavez/Castro alliance from succeeding further in its bid to dominate the political future of the Latin hemisphere with leftist leaders and leftist policies.

Combined with the Peruvian victory of Alan Garcia over Chavez' hand-picked candidate, Ollanta Humala, the Mexican result heralds an important reversal to the Chavez forces. Just several months ago, Chavez and his followers seemed unstoppable. But now, Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega, once again seeking the presidency of the nation he almost destroyed, is the sole remaining Chavista seeking office in the hemisphere.

The Mexican result - driven in part by strong female support for the reform party of Vicente Fox, the PAN - is a sobering indication of the intelligence of the country's impoverished electorate. While the Mexican middle class population has expanded from about one-tenth of the nation in the mid 1990s to about 40% today, more than half of the people still have incomes of less than $1,000 per month. Obrador promised these poor people an immediate increase of 20% in their incomes, as well as free gas and electricity, and a doubling of old-age pensions. But the Mexican voters listened instead to the warnings of Calderon's PAN that Obrador's policies would cause a crippling debt and a renewal of the path to self-destruction that Mexico experienced in the 70's and 80's which led to the peso collapse in the 1990s.

With their vivid memories of the disaster of ten years ago, Mexican voters rejected Obrador's siren song and supported instead the steady free market pro-growth policies of PAN, embodied by Calderon. With a 7 percent real growth rate last year, the Mexican economy is increasingly reaching down into the ranks of the poor and bringing them up to a middle class life. Voters want that to continue and rejected the get-rich-quick fix that Obrador was peddling.

Women led the way. In Mexico, the gender gap works the opposite of the way it does in the United States. Female voters are more conservative and supported the PAN by 4-6 points more than men did. Soberly valuing stability and real economic growth, they let their men dream of suddenly inflated pay checks while they voted to keep their feet on the ground and back the PAN.

But the real lesson of the election is the success of the way President Fox - who boasts a 60% job approval that Bush can only envy - used Mexico's oil wealth to begin to lift his country up out of poverty. With the substantially increased additional national revenues, Fox created successful programs to invest in people, education, and the economy. He began by offering free health insurance to more than a third of the Mexican people who had no coverage at all. His Opportunity program extends micro loans to fledgling small businesses. He vastly expanded scholarship programs and helped to subsidize poor families to allow them to send their children away from the fields and factories and into the schools each day.

It was by this merger of free market capitalism combined with vigorous social welfare policies that Fox was able to blunt the leftist offensive. The lesson of Mexico is that wealth will, indeed, trickle down, if it is irrigated and encouraged to do so by well conceived public policies.

For his part, Calderon pledged to continue the Fox policies that specifically target women, such as keeping schools open all day so women can avoid having to pay for child care while they work.

It is not enough for the free market forces to sit back and let laissez-faire capitalism win the day. The Argentine and Brazilian experiences suggest that even with high national rates of economic growth, wealth will not automatically distribute itself downward. That the economic successes these nations enjoyed in the 90s were followed by leftist regimes in this decade indicates that free market forces must do more to make sure that the lower classes are uplifted by national economic growth.

For his part, Chavez has maintained strong popularity in Venezuela, despite a one-note oil based economy, by offering free and low cost food to the poor, Cuban medical treatment in the barrios and a vast expansion of subsidized public work "employment."

As commodity prices rise globally, driven by Chinese and Indian demand as their economies mature and grow, Latin America can now advance economically without necessarily embracing freedom in its economics or its politics. It just has to ride oil, copper, zinc, gold, and other commodity prices upward. With quasi-communist leaders distributing the goodies, downward, anti-American leftists can gain power and stay there despite the global consensus on free markets and free peoples.

Mexico has taken the first big step to stop them.

Soon, of course, the commodity prices will crash as the boom and bust cycle plays out leaving these countries and their populist leaders with empty pockets, but, in the meantime, it may be quite a ride.

But the Mexico result shows that sound, solid economic growth, coupled with public education and good social policies, may offer an alternative that could yet save this continent from another round of boom-and-bust.

Without such policies, we will soon be facing more Castros and Chavezes in the rest of our hemisphere.

Dick Morris is a political strategist and commentator on Fox News Channel, author of several books about American politics, and writes a regular column for the “New York Post”, the “Hill”, and the “National Post” in Canada. Eileen McGann is an attorney and co-author of several books about American politics, including the recent “Condi v. Hillary”.

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