February 26, 2007
Richardson's résumé is impressive -- in English and en español
- The Oppenheimer Report
While Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are competing over who has the most star power, another Democratic Party presidential hopeful—New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson—is touring the country around the clock saying he has the best résumé, and the best foreign policy plan.
When I say around the clock, I mean it. When I asked for an interview with him during his visit to Florida this weekend, I was given a slot at 6 a.m. on Saturday. In a preliminary telephone interview Friday, Richardson told me that he wakes up every day at 5 a.m.
Richardson, the only Hispanic among the major Democratic Party contenders, has indeed an impressive résumé: He was recently reelected to a second term as New Mexico governor with 69 percent of the vote, and has served as U.S. secretary of energy, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and former U.S. congressman.
When I asked him what makes him think he can compete with political superstars Clinton and Obama, who have far more campaign money than he, he said, "I have been tested: I have foreign policy experience, I have energy experience. I have been in the arena, and I have been successful."
Richardson is calling for a "new realism" in foreign policy to replace the Bush administration's "unilateralist illusions." He explained, "This means diplomacy first, before preemption and military action."
The United States should repair its alliances and restore its world reputation as a country that respects international law, human rights and civil liberties, he said. To do that, America must, among other things, offer more Third World debt relief, join the Kyoto Protocol on global warming and adhere to the International Criminal Court, he said.
The United States also needs to focus on security threats that have been overlooked by "our obsession with Iraq," such as locking down all of the world's fissionable material before terrorists get their hands on a nuclear bomb, he said.
Richardson, who speaks fluent Spanish, was born in California from an American father and Mexican mother, and spent part of his youth in Mexico City—said that if elected, "I would pay more attention to Latin America and the Caribbean than any president has. Not just because it is our backyard, but because it affects our overall interests."
He called for Washington to drop the "ridiculous" border fence currently under construction, and launch a program akin to President Kennedy's 1961 Alliance for Progress, which he said should center on entrepreneurship, education, nutrition and renewable energy.
"The border fence is a terrible symbol of division," he said. "What is needed is a sensible path to legalization for the 12 million undocumented workers in America, plus realistic security measures like doubling border patrol agents on the border, and more detection technology."
BACKS FREE TRADE
On the pending free trade agreements with Peru and Colombia, Richardson said, "I'm a free trader. But I think free trade agreements have to have stronger enforcements in three areas: wage disparity, worker protection and environmental protection." He said he would only support the pending trade deals if they contain stronger enforcement provisions in those areas.
On Cuba, Richardson said he supports relaxing restrictions on travel and remittances, but not lifting the U.S. embargo on the island unless there is a political opening on the island.
"There has to be reciprocal action by the Cuban government," he said. "Raúl Castro has been making noises about improving the relationship. The first thing he should do is release political prisoners. If he does that, you enter into a negotiation."
My opinion: I'm somewhat anxious about Richardson's stand on free trade, which is clearly geared to please U.S. unions eager to protect their members from foreign competition, even if that comes at a great cost to U.S. consumers and Latin American economies.
But I like Richardson's résumé—few have his executive, diplomatic and legislative experience—and his commitment to Latin America. Unlike Sens. Clinton and Obama, who also will surely try to win Hispanic votes by claiming to be big friends of Latin America, Richardson has a history to prove it. He faces an uphill battle, but if he beats the odds and gets the top job, he could be a much-needed cultural bridge within America, and between the Americas.