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What Chile’s Leader Can Teach Old Joe About Democracy

The 36-year-old socialist bows to the will of the people instead of demonizing his political opponents

U.S. president Joe Biden and Chilean president Gabriel Boric / edited from Getty Images
• September 8, 2022 4:59 am

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On the eve of Chile's constitutional referendum on Sunday, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) gave his endorsement for the new national charter. Chileans, the Vermont socialist tweeted, have a chance to replace "the old anti-democratic one written by the dictator Pinochet with a new one guaranteeing rights to health, housing, education, and a habitable planet."

It turns out that an overwhelming majority of Chileans—more than 60 percent—want to keep the "old anti-democratic" constitution for now. We know this because they all participated in the democratic activity known as voting.

This must be a disappointment to Sanders and the other socialists in Congress. The American left had placed so much hope in their Chilean comrades, who first demanded a new constitution in 2019. As Sanders's foreign policy adviser, Matt Duss, put it in a video advertisement that year for his boss in the Democratic presidential primary, "Across the world right now—in Chile, Haiti, Argentina, Lebanon, Iraq, Hong Kong, and elsewhere—we see thousands of people rising up against political corruption and economic inequality."

For a while it looked like all that activism would pay off. Chileans elected a socialist president, Gabriel Boric, in 2021. But the thing about democratic politics is that voters are prone to change their minds.

Here there is a valuable lesson for the Democratic Party in America. Faced with a blow-out vote on the constitution, which was defeated by a 24-point margin, President Boric pledged to reshuffle his cabinet. He acknowledged the loss. "As president of the republic, I take this message with great humility," he said on Monday after the results were in. "We must listen to the voice of the people."

Contrast Boric's humility with the arrogance of President Joe Biden last week at Philadelphia's Independence Hall. In that campaign speech, the American president said that his fellow citizens who support Donald Trump, believe that abortion is murder, and oppose gay marriage are threats to "the very soul of this country." In other words, most conservatives and Republicans are enemies of the state.

Boric could have taken a page from the Biden playbook, delivering a speech in Santiago against a backdrop of spooky red lighting in which he derided Chileans for tacitly endorsing the country's former dictator. He chose instead to acknowledge, and to respect, the will of the people.

In doing so, Boric demonstrated that a 36-year-old South American socialist has a better grasp of democracy than the leader of the free world.