Thanks, Amy! The Minnesota senator and presidential candidate generously proved the point I made in my previous column about US political elites paying little attention to Mexico. Sen. Klobuchar did so by acting as if she had been ambushed on live TV when asked on Telemundo recently to name the president of Mexico. She was stumped, and when the interviewer persisted by asking if she knew anything about him, Klobuchar, channeling every student ever put on the spot without having done the homework reading, ventured “I know he’s the president.”
The awkwardness of what can only be called this Klobuchada escalated as the week progressed, for both her and those of us who care about the US-Mexico relationship. Asked about her lapse at a subsequent CNN Town Hall, the senator rushed to say she wanted to send her regards to Mexican President “Andre López Obrador.” The Twittersphere had a field day with her pronunciation, but most grating was the jokey condescension of the act, as if she was boasting of having remembered the busboy’s name.
At last week’s presidential debate, Elizabeth Warren, who won the night with devastating attacks against almost all her opponents, took a rare break from her combativeness to come to Klobuchar’s defense on this one issue. Pete Buttigieg (who did name López Obrador in his Telemundo interview) was arguing that Klobuchar’s lapse had hardly been trivial, given the importance of our relationship with Mexico, and Klobuchar’s claims that she is far readier than he is to be president.
“Can I just defend Senator Klobuchar for a minute?” Warren interjected. “This is not right. I understand that she forgot a name. It happens, it happens to everybody on this stage.”
So, there you have it – it happens.
Except it doesn’t really happen, in equally excusable fashion, if we’re talking about Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Britain’s Boris Johnson, or China’s Xi Jinping. Do you really think Warren would have rushed to her Senate colleague’s defense if she had “forgotten the name” of any of those leaders? I don’t.
If you live in a constant state of frustration that Mexico doesn’t receive the attention it deserves in US politics, the glass-half-full point here is to celebrate that Mexico was taking center stage at an important presidential debate. The glass-definitely-half-empty counterpoint: at issue was how reasonable it is to expect presidential candidates to know about such esoterica as the president of Mexico (a transformative one, at that, as he keeps reminding us!). And the consensus on stage, and among plenty of people watching at home (I fear), was that Buttigieg was being a sexist know-it-all.
Many people have argued that you can care and know about Mexico without knowing who the president is, but I am not sure how open these same people north of the Rio Grande would be to a Mexican political leader’s claim to know and care about the United States if they didn’t happen to know (or remember!) that a certain Donald Trump is occupying the White House.
Klobuchar triggered one of my pet peeves, but I shouldn’t single her out. Tom Steyer, also running for president, also looked like a deer caught in the headlights when asked by Telemundo to name Mexico’s president. And as my friend León Krauze wrote in Slate about the Klobuchada, the US media is also complicit in its neglect of Mexico and of its real significance to American voters.
In the three Democratic debates prior to the Las Vegas showdown, Mexico was mentioned 19 times, thanks almost entirely to the fact that the timeframe coincided with the ratification and signing of the USMCA (Don’t tell Canada, but I am counting each mention of the treaty’s name as a mention of Mexico). But even with that, Mexico lagged far behind China (48 mentions), and Iraq (33).
I dropped by a rally for Buttigieg at El Rancho High School in Las Vegas over President Day’s weekend to ask voters how important the US-Mexico relationship is as a campaign issue. I got some laughs, some blank stares, and then found four local residents of Mexican descent near the back, talking in Spanish, holding Unidos con Pete signs. I asked them my question and got a simple, if wistful, “Bueno fuera.” If only.
Well, at least after this week, it’s fair to say people aspiring to run for the White House will study up on AMLO. Here’s to small wins.
* Andrés Martínez is a professor of practice in the Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University and the editorial director of Future Tense, a Washington, D.C.-based ideas journalism partnership between ASU, Slate magazine, and New America.Twitter: @AndresDCmtz