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December 16, 2013 10:44 AM 40 Years Later

By Ed Kilgore

At a time when American politics can sometimes seem a sad and stagnant game, interesting things are happening elsewhere—most recently in Chile, where the 40th anniversary of the U.S.-backed military coup against the leftist government of Salvarodre Allende has born some pretty interesting fruit.

Socialist Michelle Bachelet has been elected to a second non-consecutive term (consecutive terms are banned by the country’s constitution) as president of Chile, defeating center-right candidate Evelyn Matthei. Bachelet won by a 62/38 landslide, and Matthei promised to support her presidency. The two women have an interesting common background: both were the daughters of Chilean air force generals, and played together as children. Matthei’s father backed the Pinochet coup, which arrested and tortured Bachelet’s father, contributing to (or causing) his 1974 death.

Bachelet made reducing inequality in Chile her signature campaign issue; her current status is yet another data point against the idea that “populism” equals class warfare and a bitter politics in which the rich always win. More generally, her credentials—a medical degree, competency in five languages, a master’s degree in military science, and even some high-profile romances—are of the sort we don’t often see of politicians in this country. It seems Bachelet’s second term in office could finally provide an atmosphere of reconciliation for the terrible events of 1973 and the seventeen ensuing years of dictatorship and state terror. A successful campaign against inequality would be an equally important legacy, and not just for her country.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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