We’ve seen enough media comparisons of Donald Trump and Hugo Chávez to make us think they had the same father.
The presumptive Republican presidential nominee and the late Venezuelan president are indeed nifty portraits of egomaniacal demagoguery. But if 2016 election pundits are looking to Latin America for ominously useful parallels, they might give the Donald-Hugo chatter a rest now and consider Hillary-Dilma.
As in, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and recently suspended Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff.
If Clinton can lose in November – and she certainly could – a big reason is that she shares many of the same toxic political flaws that have Rousseff sitting in the dock of an impeachment trial this summer.
Clinton’s not facing a trial because the FBI said this week it won’t recommend charging her for improperly using private e-mail to handle classified information – some of it “top secret” – when she was Secretary of State.
The FBI call was right. But Clinton still has to answer to the cacophonous court of public opinion and political attack ads. Not just for being “extremely careless,” as FBI Director James Comey put it, but astonishingly arrogant.
We can get better clued in to Hillary by checking in with Dilma – who, like Hillary, is a righteous liberal icon who thought she was above it all because, well, she’s a righteous liberal icon.
Though she’s a product of middle-class affluence, Rousseff joined a leftist urban guerrilla group in the 1960s during Brazil’s 25-year-long military dictatorship – a regime that tortured her in prison.
Even so, Rousseff is charisma-challenged – so much so that officials in her Workers Party convinced her, in rather sexist fashion, to get a facelift since they couldn’t give the dour economist a personality transplant. But her pluck and administrative brilliance moved popular outgoing President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva to tap her to succeed him. She was elected Brazil’s first female president in 2010 and re-elected in 2014.
Meanwhile, Clinton's Midwestern Methodist upbringing gave her an earnest sense of social and moral responsibility that's made her a poster girl for progressives. (At least until Bernie Sanders showed up.)
But Clinton too has a charisma deficit; in public at least she radiates all the personal authenticity of a sorority rush director. Still, possessing her own remarkable guts and acumen, she’s poised to become America’s first female president.
Even so, what worries voters – even those who would rather watch marathon reruns of “The Apprentice” than vote for Trump – is that Clinton could be the same kind of leader Rousseff turned out to be.
Clinton’s e-mail blunder – and her husband Bill Clinton’s foolish meeting with Attorney General Loretta Lynch last week as the case was still being investigated – make her vulnerable to the same charges of dishonesty and untrustworthiness that smacked Rousseff when she cooked her government’s books to hide mushrooming deficits. Brazil’s Congress OK’d her impeachment trial for that infraction.
But folks who worked for Rousseff at Planalto, the presidential palace in Brasília, would have told you long ago that the larger fault at work was her Amazon-size hubris. Not her liberal righteousness, but the self-righteousness it spawned.
The glow from Rousseff’s socialist halo seemed to blind her to malfeasance like the epic corruption scandal that has all but ruined Brazil’s state oil firm, Petrobras – and which started while she headed the company in the 2000s. Rousseff herself has not been charged in the multi-billion-dollar scheme; but you could call her stewardship “extremely careless.”
As President, Rousseff’s more common moniker was “extremely tactless.” She was best known for alienating allies – which, ironically, undermined support for her own anti-corruption efforts and other reform initiatives Brazil desperately needs.
Which brings to mind Clinton’s botched handling of healthcare reform during her husband’s presidency in 1993. Or more recently, as Secretary of State, her disastrous support of the misogynist, dictatorial Michel Martelly becoming President of Haiti.
The Chávez comparisons may remind Republicans why their man Trump is running behind Clinton in most polls. But Rousseff might remind Democrats why their woman Clinton isn’t as far ahead of Trump as they’d expected.