Two things that were striking in reading local news in Puerto Rico while we were there:
One of the dominant stories was Rumsfeld’s much-anticipated list of base closings, which Puerto Rico’s Buchanan ultimately escaped. What generally goes unstated in news write-ups of the process by which base closing decisions are made is what all the major players – the Secretary of Defense and his commissi on, the President, the US House, and the US Senate – have in common: no one in Puerto Rico gets to vote for them, or for the people who appointed them. While it goes without saying in local papers, it’s striking from an outsider’s perspective, and deeply problematic from a Heldian perspective that understands democracy as a measure of control over the decisions which shape one’s life, though arguably no more so than the situation of groups like the poor in the continental US who – largely – have the formal franchise but face significant obstacles to political mobilization and to getting a hearing from economic elites, or of the people’s of other countries which while not US territories are drastically affected by policies of the US government and its delegates over which they have no form of democratic control.
The other dominant story was an intensifying showdown between the territory’s Popular Democratic Party Governor and its New Progressive Party-controlled legislature over the Governor’s Cabinet appointments, especially his appointee for Secretary of State, whom the legislature voted down but who began serving in the job anyway. What was really striking to me as an outsider to Puerto Rican politics, but almost as true of coverage of the struggle over judicial appointments in the US Congress, is the total suffocation of any kind of issue background by horse race coverage – that is, speculations about who’s winning. Over five days of reading articles about this fight, I was unable to find a single sentence discussing the ideologies of any of these appointees or the issues at the heart of the power struggle. I know that Governor Acevedo Vila thinks Pont would be an excellent Secretary of State, and that NPP leaders think she’d be terrible, but I honestly could only guess what the areas of contention are. Seriously, if you know, I’m pretty curious at this point. And I doubt I’m the only one. Meanwhile, pundits in the continental US complaining about how boring the filibuster fight is to the American public should consider why the very real ideological issues driving forward the collision – like the power of the American people to harness government to pursue racial and economic justice – have been sidelined in the presentation of that fight.