Monday, November 24, 2008

Zapatero of Spain meets Big Pundit of America

Carme Chacón, Defense Minister of Spain, where our Big Pundit assures us they have "hang-ups" about gender

The Washington Post's Jim Hoagland, who by Washington Village standards counts as a foreign policy sage, has a pretty decent column on Spain's prime minister, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero: New Script for Spain's Director 11/23/08. (Spain's head of government is called in Spanish "el Presidente". But it's normally translated into American English as "prime minister".)

Being an Establishment pundit, though, Hoagland couldn't resist working in a show-business angle and asking Zapatero about Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar, who Hoagland describes as "the culturally subversive director who brilliantly mocks Spain's religious, gender and sexual hang-ups in his films". And he wastes a few paragraphs on superficial comparisons and contrasts between Zapatero and Obama, which he leads us to believe came from Zapatero himself.

But he actually gets to some substantive issues. On foreign policy:

Obama's election "means that in countries where the U.S. flag was being burned before, it is being waved now," Zapatero said. "This is a historic opportunity for the United States to be better understood" abroad. Spain could be particularly helpful in Latin America. In Venezuela and Cuba, Spain wants to work with Europe and the United States "to strengthen democratic institutions."

Spain -- the world's eighth-largest economy -- is gripped by serious unemployment and by an oversupply of housing. But Zapatero proudly noted the strength of the country's banking system, "which did not fall for deregulation and for the ideological model" of free enterprise. "Such ideology does not accept facts and does not understand that history is contingent."

On Afghanistan, where Spain has 800 soldiers: "Europe needs to listen to Obama, and Obama needs to listen to Europe. We have been increasing troop numbers, not massively, but the fight for security becomes less successful. We have to have a global strategy" to bring political, social and security change at once. [my emphasis]
But reading any of our Big Pundits closely can be a discouraging experience. Discouraging to think that these are the cream of the crop of what our democracy has produced as our high-end pundits.


Hoagland writes that:

... Zapatero's biggest ideas concern social change -- hauling Spain out of its patriarchal and church-dominated past, as roughly as necessary -- rather than celebrating the bliss of bipartisanship.

Signature issues for Zapatero's second term are legalizing assisted suicide, liberalizing Spain's unevenly applied abortion laws and increasing church-state separation. He is proud of having enacted laws permitting quick divorces and same-sex marriages -- a step that made Spain "a much more decent country," he said through his interpreter. [my emphasis]
Not to be snarky. But I suppose it would be too much to expect that one of our most respected commentators on foreign affairs might be able to, you know, speak Spanish himself.

And here's where delving into the mental operations of our great columnist gets weird. I think, though I'm not sure, that Hoagland is trying to compliment Obama by contrasting his cautious approach to such issues with Zapatero's wild and crazy hippie Socialist ideas. The subtleties of our High Punditry can be chanllenging to penetrate.

By the way, since Spain, Germany and Canada have legalized same-sex marriage, there have been no signs that the foundations of their civilizations are collapsing. (Their banks are a bit of a different story, though even Spain's banks are doing relatively well in the circumstances.) Nor have I come across any reports of heterosexual Spanish married couples hearing about same-sex marriages being held and rushing out to get divorced themselves because they think heterosexual marriage can't survive if same-sex marriage are allowed. Isn't that what the opponents of same-sex marriage say would happen here?

But back to our great pundit Jim Hoagland. It's immediately after those two paragraphs that he brings in Pedro Almodóvar:

Not exactly Obama's arms-length approach to same-sex marriage nor that of Zapatero's fellow European leaders, for that matter. More like that of Pedro Almodóvar, the culturally subversive director who brilliantly mocks Spain's religious, gender and sexual hang-ups in his films. When I asked Zapatero if he aspired to be the Almodóvar of Spanish politics, he grinned broadly, nodded and praised "this great director."
Zapatero's Socialist Party(PSOE) won a majority of the national vote in 2004. After serving a full term and embarcing on this particular program of social reform, including legalization of same-sex marriages, the PSOE won a clear majority again in national elections this year.

So how does that make Zapatero "culturally subversive", like Hoagland thinks Almodóvar is? And when has Zapatero ever mocked "Spain's religious, gender and sexual hang-ups"? So far as I can see, Zapatero has addressed religious (i.e., church-state relations), gender and sexual issues straightforwardly and respectfully. Hoagland didn't mention the very active campaign that Spain has been maintaining the last few years against domestic violence. And lets leave aside whether Hoagland's characterization even makes any sense about Pedro Almodóvar.

Now, you don't have to be practicing cultural arrogance to have an informed, critical view of another country's cultural situation. But compared to America, where we're lucky the Republican Party isn't insisting that high-school kids be instructed on how the stork delivers babies, does Spain really look like it has a lot of "religious, gender and sexual hang-ups" by comparison? I mean, it's a majority of us enlightened, free-spirited Californians who just decided that same-sex marriage was too scary and strange to allow it to remain legal?

Zapatero's current cabinet has a majority of female ministers. Including the Defense Minister, who had a baby not long after taking her post. Now, think about Donald Rumsfeld. And tell me again how it is that Spain struggles with gender hang-ups. I mean, I'm not a Big Pundit and I'm sure I'm missing something. But this is just not processing in my brain exactly right.

So, when Hoagland asked if Zapatero "if he aspired to be the Almodóvar of Spanish politics" and Zapatero responded with a grin and a compliment about Almodóvar's talent in his profession, my guess - I'm going to mind-read like the Big Pundits do here - is that Zapatero was thinking something along the lines of, "Dios mío, American pundits really do ask the kind of airhead questions people warned me about!"

Or maybe he just thought his translator made some kind of mistake. But then again, Zapatero probably didn't need the translator to understand Hoagland's English. But understanding Big Pundit thought processes? Language skills don't help much for that! A neurology specialization is probably more appropriate. Or maybe astronomy. Because I'm still leaning heavily toward the pod people from Fomalhaut b theory.

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