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Bill Richardson in Madrid

Ivan Briscoe
9 June 2008

The Hispanic vote in the swing states, on a plate. This, in the kind of clumsily indiscreet code language that serves as competition for Obama’s vice-presidential slate, is what New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson regards as the key to Democrat victory. It is not hard to see that he wants the job: when asked directly, he recited the names of those undecided states, Colorado, Nevada and Florida, as if they were courses of a fine banquet.

This was a Monday morning under the gilded fronds and angelic chorus of the Casa de América, central Madrid. Ambassadors to Spain were there, as were the literati, the politically wired, and the media. Miguel Barroso, director of this excellent cultural centre and one of Prime Minister Zapatero’s closest friends, sat by Richardson’s side.

Supposedly the governor, whose mother was Mexican, was in Madrid to sell New Mexico’s potential as a base for the aerospace industry and as a location for unnamed Spanish films. No Country for Old Men, whose title he did not recall and whose homicidal mania he appears not to have watched, was shot there; not perhaps the greatest advertisement for US soft power. There was also the possibility of aerospace projects and work on renewable energy, although the governor did stumble when asked what New Mexico has itself done in the name of a cooler climate. Something about his official cars. A train. That was about it.

Yet it soon became clear that Richardson was lining up his Hispanic qualifications and Spanish amities, certainly excellent, for that place by Obama’s side. Each possible nominee must be able to deliver on what Obama lacks, and Richardson seems to have identified those sun spots. So whereas the presidential candidate offers elysian dialogue, Richardson provides a bit more fist: diplomacy and the military must work together. Colombia’s president is a staunch US ally. And, most disturbingly, George Bush’s plan to seed the Mexico-US border with high-tech military equipment so as to defeat the ever splitting and recombining drug cartels is fundamentally sound, when it is self-evidently a dud.

Richardson made clear he would hike the Democrats’ share of the Hispanic vote to well over 65 percent. In short, he was also offering a share, indirectly, of the Clinton brand. The style of his speech was rudimentary, Blairite Spanish: short sentences, even shorter on detail. It was hard to disagree with a word, yet difficult to assert that John Bolton might not have said the same after a good rest.

But this seems the antidote that the vice-presidential candidate must seek to provide: a soiled, blue collar, Pinkerton detective to sneer in Tehran while Obama looks for a transparent, wholesome, culturally respectful solution to Iranian nuclear ambitions. It seems the die is cast, and the vice is doomed to be the bad cop with a liking for the billiard table.

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