Brazilian presidential front-runner Jair Bolsonaro has made unpleasant remarks and has authoritarian impulses. That has made the former army officer a target for withering Western media criticism.
Fair enough. But why does Bolsonaro's opponent, socialist candidate Fernando Haddad, get a free pass?
I ask this because, assessed against the scale of challenges and opportunities facing the Brazilian people, Haddad deserves a far tougher gaze than he's receiving. The Economist, for example, is offering utterly absurd editorials in Haddad's support, presenting him as a moderate. The evidence suggests that Haddad is actually a devout socialist and loyal party man.
When it comes to the socialist Workers Party, loyalty is a negative rather than noble feature. After all, the Workers Party is at the heart of a systemic corruption scandal that has seen former President Lula da Silva imprisoned and his successor, Dilma Rousseff impeached and removed from office. The centerpiece of that scandal, now investigated as "Car Wash," involves Brazilian politicians taking big bribes in return for business contracts. And where candidate Barack Obama came out of the Chicago swamp with his reputation and integrity intact, Haddad is a true swamp dweller candidate. The former professor has been charged by prosecutors for taking bribes from a construction company while serving as Sao Paulo mayor.
The world is imperfect, and Bolsonaro is far from a saint. But let's consider which candidate offers the best program for Brazil's better future.
First, there's no evidence from Haddad's program that the would-be-president has any interest in serious reform. Haddad wants to boost public spending on already bloated entitlement programs, increase state control over the economy, and raise taxes. These things will do nothing to give Brazil a more efficient economy that creates new jobs and attracts greater foreign investment. In contrast, Bolsonaro is pledging to expand the independence of Brazil's central bank, privatize corrupt and inefficient state-owned industries, reduce the government bureaucracy and workforce, and simplify Brazil's complex, evasion-heavy tax code. These proposals are textbook reforms of the kind that saved Margaret Thatcher's Britain from its socialist nightmare.
It's the same dichotomy on security issues.Where Haddad offers more of the same, which has led Brazil into war-like crime levels, Bolsonaro offers at least some measure of innovation. The conservative candidate wants to boost civilian rights to gun ownership (the gangs have an abundance of guns already), and greater resourcing for police investigations that can target senior criminals.
Don't misunderstand me, Bolsonaro is far from perfect here: he's pledging, for example, to grant relative impunity to police officers who use excessive force. Yet Brazil is in a real crisis. Unlike his opponent, Bolsonaro at least recognizes that Brazilians need and are demanding decisive action. It might spark groans in Western capitals, but Bolsonaro's pledge to put the armed forces into action against criminal gangs does not reflect dystopian ideals. It reflects public desperation.
Ultimately, when it comes to the big question of whether Haddad or Bolsonaro is better for Brazil's future, I see very little doubt as to the answer. It's Bolsonaro, stupid. And just as the Economist was wrong in opposing Narendra Modi's campaign to lead India, they are wrong about Bolsonaro. Only he offers the urgent reforms necessary to make Brazil's future brighter.