Mexican president flubs it at the Kennedy school

Yo No Tengo Huevos Dept.
By MARCELA GARCIA  |  June 4, 2010

Only a day before the Massachusetts Senate showed its true colors by approving a set of anti-immigrant amendments to the state budget — a recent change of heart that would probably not have happened had it not been for the so-called Arizona effect — the Harvard Kennedy School's Class of 2010 hosted Mexican President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa as its commencement speaker.

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FELIPE-FLOP: Calderón did not address immigration at Harvard.
A vocal opponent of Arizona's new immigration law, the SB1070 (as in "Son of a Bitch," or maybe "Super Bullshit"?), Calderón was presented with a golden opportunity — a rare occasion to use a bully pulpit and make a difference before a major Beacon Hill vote.

He had the chance either to play it safe or make a difference. Guess what the Mexican politician chose?

Remember, as recently as two weeks ago, Calderón made a two-day state visit to the White House, where he not once but twice voiced his disapproval of SB1070, saying things like "such laws as the Arizona law . . . [are] forcing our people to face discrimination."

Yet, in the midst of this hostile, anti-immigrant climate — even in what was known once as the bluest state — the Mexican president decided to mute those criticisms in his speech at the Kennedy School. Not once in his 15-minute address did he mention the word "immigration."

Himself a Kennedy School alumnus — he was a Mason Fellow there, and received a master's degree in public administration in 2000 — Calderón was indeed addressing the future leaders of the world in the heavily guarded John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum, where Mariachi music was blaring right before his arrival.

The crowd of 550 graduates, their families, professors, and friends, was buoyant, and clapped enthusiastically when Calderón was introduced by David Ellwood, dean of the Kennedy School, who previously had urged the audience not to protest, calling it "a bad idea" because of the beefed-up security.

I should have known then what I was in for.

Fourteen Mexicans were graduating in this year's class, and they met with Calderón during the day. But unlike many other visitors to the JFK Forum, he held no Q&A session after his address, and offered no media availabilities whatsoever.

In such a hermetic visit, what is the message that Calderón is really delivering to the Class of 2010? During the speech, he offered rhetorical remarks on "the importance of public service" and "the meaning of politics."

The secret of politics, according to Calderón, lies in "firmly believing in something. . . . The kind of public servant that we need is a leader who is able to think always of the common good."

Forgive my cynicism, but upon hearing that one, I almost fell off my comfortable and pricey chair in the media room adjacent to the forum.

The Mexican president went on to list several of his accomplishments, including his government's response to the H1N1 virus, the economy, the . . . blah, blah, blah. What about immigration?

Calderón would have impressed a lot more had he continued voicing his stance on one of the most — if not the most — divisive issues of our time. He had the chance of proving his ideals about the importance of "firmly believing in something," and saying them out loud — just like that powerful and moving Mariachi music.

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