One of the most memorable episodes of the 2004 presidential election was the lambasting of undecided voters by comedians and political analysts. Commentators across the ideological spectrum were quick to point out the irony of being undecided about two candidates who seemed complete opposites. Comparing Senator Kerry to President Bush, it was argued, was like comparing apples to oranges.
Although I was part of the entourage that took jabs at undecided voters, recent global developments have changed my outlook. Insofar as social backgrounds go, for instance, both presidential contenders were cut from the same cloth. In fact, with minor exceptions, American presidents have always been and continue to be a combination of wealthy elitist Caucasians, Protestants and males.
It is a shame that a nation that prides itself as the beacon of democracy and freedom has not had the audacity to challenge 230 years of a ruling aristocracy of men. Perhaps, we could learn something from a developing nation such as Bolivia, where a democratic revolution is astir.
Newly elected president, Evo Morales, is a testament to a growing global movement that challenges the traditional archetype set for democratic leaders. Morales' victory on Jan. 22 marks the first time a person of indigenous decent has taken executive control in Bolivia. While nearly 70 percent of Bolivians are of indigenous decent, economic marginalization has prevented them from any realization of significant governmental representation.
Already, seeds of change have been sowed under Morales' leadership. For starters, he cut his salary by more than 57 percent, which amounts to an earning of $1,800 a month. He slashed his cabinet members' salaries and decreed that no public official is allowed to earn more than the president. Morales obviously is not a good student of trickle-down economics, a relic of the Reagan presidency meant to establish an excuse for why the rich should get richer.
Although a few budget cuts here and there will not salvage Bolivia from a pit of economic despair, it does send a powerful message. Namely, that Morales is committed to scraping the bottom of the barrel in order to alleviate poverty. Also, Morales' self-inflicted income slash is indicative of a humbleness rarely, if ever, found in other global leaders.
Hugo Chevez, Venezuelan president and Morales' sidekick, is another example of a head of state that has defied the traditional characteristics inherent of most world leaders. Born into a poverty-stricken family of schoolteachers, Chevez went from living in a thatched-leaf house to the presidential residency in Caracas. Most of his initiatives as president are motivated by the hardships he faced growing up. As a result, Chevez inspired a "Bolivarian Revolution," which places a large emphasis on social justice.
Considered by some as the Jean Monnet of Latin America, Chevez's most ambitious undertaking has been to foster regional cooperation within Latin America. The emergence of populist left-wing governments has facilitated this endeavor, leading many to believe that a Latin American Union is in store for the near future.
Perhaps, though, Chevez is better known for blowing raspberries at the United States. A self-proclaimed anti-Bush advocate, Chevez has publicly denounced the war in Iraq, established strong ties with Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, nationalized oil industries and accused the Bush administration of plotting to kill him.
Apart from indigenous and poor classes rising to the ranks, a surge of women in high offices has also been widely felt. In Germany, Angela Merkel was recently voted in as the first female and Osi Chancellor of Germany. Liberia, Chile and Finland are other examples of countries that have recently opted for women in power.
It's high time this country replaces the bland criteria by which it chooses its leaders. Come 2008, let's not stop at regime change, but a mentality change as well.
Luci Storelli-Castro is a junior double majoring in political science and philosophy. Her columns run every Friday.