National Review's Jay Nordlinger is in Davos for the big hoo-haw wing-ding they're having; here's his take on our man Lula da Silva, who talks doctrinaire left and occasionally says something profoundly dumb, but has been behaving surprisingly sensibly regarding economic policy. I've always liked the theory that it took a guy who was seen by the Commies and by the American people as a real hardhead, Nixon, to get us out of Vietnam and open up relations with China. Some softy George McGovern type wouldn't be taken seriously by anyone, just as Jimmy Carter wasn't. Similarly, it took tough old Charles de Gaulle to get France out of Algeria. My guess is that it's going to be tough mean Ariel Sharon who makes the Palestinians an offer they can't refuse. Well, maybe a country like Brazil needs exactly the opposite approach. Lula is seen as a man of the people, and it may take a guy with his humanitarian lefty image to give Brazil's economy the "neoliberal" bitter medicine it needs more of.
Anyway, here's Nordlinger.
The president of Brazil, Lula da Silva, is back in Davos, two years after his debut, shortly after his election. He is wildly popular, but he's less popular at the World Social Forum — held in Porto Alegre — from which he has just come.
The World Social Forum, remember, is the convocation set up to counter Davos, because Davos is seen as capitalist — if only they knew! — whereas the Social Forum is "progressive."
Anyway, Lula used to be a darling of the WSF folks, but his name is muddier now, because he has adopted some liberal economic policies. (In America, we would call these conservative, if not right-wing. But then, our terms are eternally screwed up.)
Here in Davos, Lula speaks to a large audience in the Congress Center. He is introduced by our founder and host, Klaus Schwab, who calls him "a champion of fairness and equality." Referring to da Silva's progress over the last two years, Schwab declares, "Brazil is back."
It is da Silva's purpose to "reclaim the missing link between fairness and strategic development." Under his leadership, Brazil "achieved stability," and then economic growth. Two years ago, "I was greeted [in Davos] with a mixture of fear and uncertainty — what could a former lathe operator do in a country like Brazil?" That is not true. Lula was received rhapsodically — like Pele in a soccer stadium. I remember well.
The president touts two major reforms: of the tax code and of social security. And he boasts of beating back inflation, from 12.5 percent in 2002, to 7.2 percent last year.
In all, Lula comes off as a sober, responsible leader, not a rabble-rouser.
At one point, he says, "[We have done such and such,] and if God permits, [we will do such and such]." If God permits! If he said that in our country, he would be denounced as a dangerous "theocrat." The New York Times would have a fit.
Da Silva is trolling for investments, and he has picked a good pond, for Davos is stuffed with investors. Several times, he mentions that he will be available at the Belvedere Hotel "tomorrow morning," to discuss opportunities. This is almost touching.
After the president's formal remarks, Klaus Schwab has a question for him: Two years from now, what would he like to have happened? Brazil's admission to the U.N. Security Council? Lula answers, "If all Brazilians can have breakfast, lunch, and dinner, I can die in peace." Huge applause.
He also speaks of "lessons I learned in the labor movement." Can you think of another world leader who learned lessons in the labor movement? How about Ronald Reagan? I think he and Lula would have had much to talk about. Of course, Reagan learned how to stand up to Communists.
Da Silva stresses the need to "democratize the United Nations," meaning that we must put more countries on the Security Council: "We would not have had the Iraq war, a unilateral decision of a single country," with a better United Nations.
And the people of Iraq would still live in what one great man — Kanan Makiya — dubbed "the Republic of Fear."
Nordlinger's last point is of course correct. I dunno, though, I think Lula has to live up to his man-of-the-people image and throw the lefties a few bones every now and again, and an easy and cheap way to do so is by making some meaningless comments at Davos that get picked up by your local press. The fun part is that nobody's going to complain. The Left loves Lula's rhetoric and he can shut up the Right by saying, look, I'm takin' care of business here, and besides, are you against Social Justice? It's kind of like the way Bush has to throw the Christian Right a few bones every now and then and so he says something about Jesus. The Right loves the rhetoric and he can shut up the Left by saying, hey, look, it's not like we're teaching the kids the Ave Maria in math class, and besides, are you against Jesus? It's hard to go wrong in America if you talk about Jesus, just like it's hard to go wrong in international circles (especially Latin international circles) if you get in a dig at the damn Yankees.