U.S. Elections Being Monitored Around the Globe
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
MARTIN: Now it's time for our regular series, Dispatches. Normally, we check in with correspondents from across the globe. But this time, however, our guests are right here in the U.S. reporting on the U.S. for publications around the world. And with the presidential primaries in a dead heat for the Democrats, we wanted to hear what people around the world are saying about this race for the White House. Joining us now are three foreign correspondents, Jesus Esquivel, The Washington correspondent from Mexico's Proceso, weekly political magazine. Suzanne Goldenberg, U.S. correspondent for the British newspaper The Guardian. You've been with us before, so welcome back to you both. And we're also joined by K.P. Nayar, Chief Diplomatic Editor for India's newspaper, The Telegraph. Welcome. Thank you all so much.
Mr. JESUS ESQUIVEL (Proceso, Mexico): Thank you.
Ms. SUZANNE GOLDENBERG (The Guardian, Britain): Thank you.
Mr. K.P. NAYAR (The Telegraph, India): Thank you.
MARTIN: Jesus, we spoke with you and Suzanne in January, right before the Iowa caucuses. You're both veterans of the U.S. political scene. I wanted to ask you, what's striking you so far? Is it like your American colleagues, the fact that this race has gone on so long? Suzanne?
Ms. GOLDENBERG: Well, yes, and I think the unpredictability of the race at first. I mean, it's - that sort of quality is ending, and the volatility every day brings a new development in this race, and there's been lots of surprises. And the huge excitement that you see when you talk to people, you know, the numbers of voters who are mobilized, the stories you hear about - from people about how upset they are at the situation in the country and how much they're looking forward to 2008 when they get a chance to vote.
MARTIN: Jesus, what about you?
Mr. ESQUIVEL: And how undecided are the young people, especially. They are not quite sure who's their candidate. I just came back from Texas and spent a week and a half over there, and I went to the border radius and asked young people, especially students, who is your candidate? And the majority of them, they said I'm not sure. I'm waiting to see who is going to be the right guy to be my candidate. So it's very exciting, you know, to see how the Americans are thinking about it.
MARTIN: K.P., this is the third U.S. presidential campaign you've covered. Do I have that right?
Mr. NAYAR: That's right, yes.
MARTIN: How interested are your readers in the campaign, and what are you struck by?
Mr. NAYAR: When the primary season started, in India, it was sort of taken for granted that Hillary Clinton was going to be the next president of the U.S. And after Iowa, people thought that it was just a chance that Obama won. But as the race built up, I think the people in India have been sort of surprised by the Obama factor, the fact that it became kind of a movement, his candidacy.
And now there is considerable interest, and I must say the greater interest is in the fact that the inevitability of a Clinton presidency has sort of passed. I think that's what is interesting to most Indian readers.
MARTIN: We've talked a little bit about - we've talked a lot, actually, about the whole kind of race, gender question in this country. Some people think we've talked about it too much. K.P., I wanted to ask you, is this of interest in India? I mean, you all - of course, India had a female head of state, of course, so this is not new, you know, to India. But we have not here.
Mr. NAYAR: The gender factor doesn't interest Indian readers at all, because it's not just India. The whole of Southeast Asia has had women heads of state or heads of government: Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan, India. So that doesn't interest people at all. But like in most countries, I suppose, what matters to the Indian readers is how will it affect Indo-U.S. relations? What is in it for us? That is the factor that (unintelligible).
To that extent, former President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton have both been very engaged in, well, with India. In fact, it was actually Hillary Clinton who persuaded President Clinton to make the trip to India because she made three trips to India before President Clinton visited.
So Hillary Clinton, people know. There's name recognition, and there's great appreciation of the fact that she has been involved with India. And, as a matter of fact, Hillary Clinton is the co-chair of the Senate Friends of India. So more than the gender factor, people have been interested in Hillary Clinton, and I think there is a sense of disappointment that the inevitability of a Clinton presidency is kind of ebbing away. You know?
MARTIN: Okay, Suzanne, what about you? You're covering - and, of course, as we know, Britain's had women head of state as well as head of government, so you know, that's not a big factor there. But is the race issue interesting to your readers?
Ms. GOLDENBERG: It's really fascinating to people. First of all, Britons are fascinated by the pageantry of American politics, the fact that it goes on so long, these big rallies. That's not like anything you see in the U.K. In addition, there's a huge fascination with Obama and his charisma that's been examined endlessly.
The other thing you have to remember is that Britain and America, sort of, there's a lot of back and forth. People see each other as mirrors because of the English-speaking links. And what I've been seeing a lot is in the black British community, there's huge interest in Obama's candidacy. There's a lot of debate about what it means for black people in Britain.
There was actually a sort of comment in one of the papers this morning from Trevor Phillips, who used to be the head of the Commission on Racial Equality, sort of wondering how that would be for Britain, how it would be for race relations in Britain and race relations in America.
He actually wasn't that positive, but, in general, there is a lot of excitement in the black community and in the community at large in Britain about this race.
MARTIN: Jesus, we talked about this a little bit before, particularly the gender piece, but what about race? Is the question of race discussed?
Mr. ESQUIVEL: Yes, it is. Especially in Mexico, the public is watching how the Hispanic vote is going to decide the vote in this Democratic race, especially that everybody, when they say Hispanics, they think they are all the people (unintelligible), and basically Mexicans, we are looking to the second generation of Hispanics in the U.S., people that have been born in the U.S. And they are more concerned about the issues of security, the economy of the U.S.
So they think there is a more-educated vote that are following Obama. Obama is a big factor in Mexico.
MARTIN: I want to talk more about this when we come back. We're going to take a short break in a minute, but there is this whole question about whether Latinos will vote for an African-American. It's been very much discussed. I don't know who sort of started this line of questioning, but a Clinton pollster, Sergio Bendixen, raised this issue in an interview with the New Yorker, where he suggested that Latinos won't, and there's been a sort of furious back-and-forth about this issue. Jesus, I want to get your take on that. If you'd just start, we'll take a break in a minute, but just tell me what you think about that?
Mr. ESQUIVEL: Well, I think the people who say that Latinos are not going to vote for a black candidate are wrong. I just spent a week and a half in Texas, and more of the Hispanic students, they say Obama is a big factor for them. They think he's the best candidate who will represent minorities in this government. So I don't think it's a big, big factor that they…
MARTIN: Do you think it might be generational? Perhaps older voters, more skeptical. Younger ones, more interested?
Mr. ESQUIVEL: Absolutely.
MARTIN: Okay. We're going to pause here for a short break, and when we come back, we're going to continue our discussion with our three distinguished foreign correspondents. We're going to hear about the latest developments from Kenya, and we will hear about ads you can taste.
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MARTIN: I'm Michel Martin, and you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're going to continue with our roundtable of foreign correspondents who report on the U.S. With us here are Jesus Esquivel of Mexico's Proceso magazine, Suzanne Goldenberg of The Guardian newspaper in London, and K.P. Nayar of The Telegraph in India.
Suzanne, when you were last with us, you said that the British people have been captivated by the idea of Mike Huckabee. I know we don't want to dwell on that because his campaign seems to be sort of losing steam, but why were they so interested?
Ms. GOLDENBERG: I think because he's so alien to the British experience. I mean, you know, I can't think of a single successful political leader in Britain who's been so overtly religious in that way, and his folksy charm, the jokes, the levity, you know, his apparent lack of concern about appearing to have gravitas. That sort of really sort of went over well in Britain. People thought he was funny, and they warmed to that.
But, you know, now that he's like so far behind in the race, it looks like John McCain's going to be the nominee, we've sort of stopped paying attention to him.
MARTIN: What are folks paying attention to now? Like, what's getting the most attention from readers when you write about it?
Ms. GOLDENBERG: Well, it's extraordinary to me. You know, I've been a journalist for 20 years or something, and I have never seen this much consistent interest in a single story in my life. And I've covered, you know, big stories all over the world.
Every day on the Web site, the top most-read story on the Guardian Web site will have either the name Clinton or Obama in the title, whether it's a debate or, you know, a story looking at Ohio - anything. And, you know, that spot traditionally has gone to sort of sports coverage or Britney Spears or, you know, that kind of thing. So that's an extraordinary level of interest.
And we're also - one thing that's interesting to me is that this sort of nasty side of the campaign, the attacks, if you like, are also something that people are very interested - you know, the use of race against Obama, the slurs against Obama, the slurs against Clinton. The underhanded side of campaigning is something that Britons are fascinated by, as well.
MARTIN: Why? I wonder why?
Ms. GOLDENBERG: I think because, well, everyone likes a good, nasty story. And also, I think a basic sense of fairness. You know, and I can't see - you know, the way race has been used in this contest against Obama is something that, you know, strikes people a lot, you know, the pictures circulating of him in Kenyan costume really, you know, caught people off guard. They were amazed by that. The stories about Michelle Obama's lack of patriotism, apparently lack or accusation that she wasn't patriotic.
MARTIN: What some would call. That's interesting.
Ms. GOLDENBERG: Yeah. But because that's - you know, nobody questions people's patriotism in Britain. They just take it for granted.
Ms. GOLDENBERG: Yeah, not in the same degree.
MARTIN: Interesting. K.P., what about you? What are the things that your readers are most captivated by?
Mr. NAYAR: Writing for an Indian newspaper on the U.S. presidential election involves two aspects, really. One, as I mentioned, is the overall picture, the big picture. But there is also an element of the campaign that's of tremendous interest to the Indian readership, which is what the Indian-American community is doing.
Earlier before the break, we spoke about the Latino community, how the Latinos are voting, but in California, for instance, an issue that was of great interest to Indian readers was the so-called Hispanic-Asian coalition, which actually put Hillary Clinton way ahead of Obama in the California primary.
The Indian community, especially in Silicon Valley, they have been - you know, the information technology people - they have been great supporters of Hillary Clinton, and the Indian-American community in California actually played a big role in the Clinton campaign in California, which is of interest.
And then in the last 10 years or so, the Indian-American community has become politically very active. We now, for instance, have the first Indian-American governor, in Louisiana, Bobby Jindal. So the role that the Indian-American community's playing in the presidential campaign is a subject of great interest to India.
MARTIN: I'm glad you brought up Bobby Jindal, because we only have about three minutes left, so that's a perfect opportunity to talk about the Republicans, because Bobby Jindal, of course, is a Republican - a very interesting political figure - conservative, evangelical, and so forth. So K.P., just very briefly, are your readers engaged by John McCain? Are they engaged by the Republican race, as well? I know they're probably - perhaps less well-known to your readers.
Mr. NAYAR: There are two levels of interest, really. You know, the mass readership is interested in Obama and Clinton. They're not sort of tickled by McCain at all. But the thinking readership, so to speak, the strategic community, people who take an interest in foreign affairs, they are greatly interested in John McCain.
In fact, this segment of readership, which is of course small, believes that John McCain would be the best president as far as India is concerned because there's no doubt at all that he would continue with George W. Bush's policies on India, where Indo-U.S. relations and George W. Bush improved by leaps and bounds, and there's this conviction that John McCain wouldn't change the India policy at all.
MARTIN: Interesting. Okay, Jesus, what about…
Mr. NAYAR: And that…
MARTIN: Oh sorry. I just want to give Jesus a minute here. We only have about a minute left, and I need to hear from Jesus again about - particularly about the Republican side.
Mr. ESQUIVEL: Well, on the Republican side, the Mexicans think that John McCain is going to be a good president in terms of friendship with Mexico. He knows very well the border. He - you know, his position on immigration has been gratefully received by the Mexicans.
The big concern in this case for Mexico is the position of Senator Clinton and Senator Obama on NAFTA. The Mexican government is very concerned with the threat that if they don't renegotiate NAFTA, the U.S. is going to be out of NAFTA.
So lately, the Mexicans are so worried about that position, and also they want to see, finally, if the U.S. is going to change or represent what they have the power in the sports. When we see sports, we always see black people, you know, the strongest, and now the Mexicans are saying that finally, they're going to have something that represent the U.S., probably a person who is black.
So it's very, very interesting in Mexico. They are finally saying we are going to see if the Americans are going to vote for what they are.
MARTIN: That's very interesting. Well, good. Come back and see is. Jesus Esquivel is the Washington correspondent for Mexico's Proceso weekly political magazine. Suzanne Goldenberg is the U.S. correspondent for the London-based newspaper The Guardian. And they were kind enough to join me here in our studio in Washington. We were also joined by K.P. Nayar, chief diplomatic editor for the Indian newspaper The Telegraph, and he was at member-station KUHF in Houston, Texas. Thank you all so much. Do come back and see us.
Mr. NAYAR: Thank you.
Mr. ESQUIVEL: Thank you.
Ms. GOLDENBERG: Thank you.