Time's Padgett: Bush's 'Excessive' Power Pushed Argentinians to Rebuke Their President

The recent midterm election drubbing of leftist legislative allies of Argentinan power couple President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and husband (and former president) Nestor Kirchner is partly thanks to the imperial designs of power-hungry former U.S. President George W. Bush and the consensus-building ethos of Barack Obama.

Or so Time magazine's Tim Padgett asserts without evidence in a June 30 piece, "Kirchner Loss a Lesson for Latin America":

Fernandez, like her husband and their left-wing ally Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, is a combative populist who critics say is too dismissive of the legislative and judicial branches, which are still weak institutions in Latin America. Her Sunday setback "indicates that Latin America's hyperpresidentialist project, which was fueled by the economic boom, faces walls and obstacles now," says Javier Corrales, a Latin America expert who teaches political science at Amherst College in Massachusetts. Another factor is the exit of U.S. President George W. Bush, whose own bid for excessive presidential power wasn't exactly seen by Latin Americans as a model of democratic checks and balances. Today, the more collegial Obama presidency makes hyperpresidencies look less seemly.

Yet Padgett failed to back up his argument with any substance. Indeed, Professor Corrales's arguments in the balance of Padgett's piece suggest that leftist South American presidents will have to moderate their tone and policy stances in order to stave off a rebuke from their electorates as the political pendulum swings towards the center-right (emphasis mine):

Corrales says many Latin Presidents are feeling a similar sort of panic. Earlier this year, Chavez saw plummeting oil prices threaten to undermine his socialist revolution, which has enfranchised Venezuela's poor but has also raised fears about authoritarian rule. Chavez rushed through a constitutional referendum last February that lets him run for re-election indefinitely. Fernandez's midterm defeat, says Corrales, may have leaders like Chavez "asking if they should ease up on their ideological hard line or ramp it up to neutralize opponents before it's too late." In Honduras, a coup on the day of the Argentine vote forced leftist President Manuel Zelaya into exile. Zelaya's foes accuse him of presidential overreach.

Corrales says that coups are an "unacceptable" way for opponents to confront ambitious presidencies. But to keep her presidency relevant, Fernandez, 56, will have to moderate her own political reach. Although Kirchner's Buenos Aires congressional slate lost to the more conservative opposition party, Union-Pro, he still gets a seat in the chamber of deputies because of proportional-voting rules. But Union-Pro leader and billionaire businessman Francisco de NarvÁez told the Buenos Aires daily La Nacion that Kirchner "needs to step aside and let his wife be the nation's President and build some space for consensus." The President, he said, needs to read "these election results well." Other Latin Presidents should, too.

Economy Time Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner Nestor Kirchner Tim Padgett