The List

Bad Exes

Most ex-presidents and former prime ministers devote their lives to making a positive difference in the world, or at least fade away into obscurity. Here are five former leaders who have done neither.

GERHARD SCHRÖDER

Old job: Chancellor of Germany, 1998-2005

New image: Schröder had always been reliably pro-Russia as chancellor, rejecting criticism of Moscow's human rights record and even describing then-President Vladimir Putin as a "flawless democrat." But the German public was still shocked by the blatant cynicism of his final act. Less than one month before stepping down, Schröder helped procure a $1.4 billion loan for Gazprom, the Russian state oil monopoly formerly run by current President Dmitry Medvedev. Then, just after stepping down, Schröder accepted the chairmanship of Gazprom's controversial Nord Stream pipeline project, which will increase Germany's reliance on Russian natural gas and was agreed to under Schröder's tenure.

Schröder's actions were a major political scandal in Germany, with the public understandably wondering why he had been so eager to negotiate the pipeline deal in the first place. Schröder told a German newspaper, "I do not see that I did anything wrong," and got a court to enforce a gag order preventing rival politician Guido Westerwelle, now Germany's foreign minister, from criticizing him.

More recently, Schröder joined the board of BP's troubled Russian subsidiary, TNK-BP, whose British owners have accused the Russian government of attempting to harass them into leaving the country. Schröder continues to toe the Russian line on foreign-policy issues, defending Putin's democratic credentials and criticizing the recognition of Kosovo's independence.

JOSÉ MARÍA AZNAR

Old job: Prime minister of Spain, 1996-2004

New image: Spanish voters gave Aznar the boot after his government attempted to pin the blame for the 2004 Madrid train bombings on ETA, the Basque separatist group, when they were in fact carried out by Islamist extremists hoping to punish Spain for its support of the deeply unpopular Iraq war. Since then, Aznar, who runs a think tank and sits on the board of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., has distinguished himself mainly by the extremity of his rhetoric.

Aznar has joined with Czech President Vaclav Klaus in calling global warming a "new religion" and referring to environmentalists as "flag bearers of the global-warming apocalypse ... who seek to restrict individual liberties in the name of a noble cause ... as the communists did!" (Never mind that under Aznar's tenure, Spain signed on to the Kyoto Protocol to combat global warming.)

Aznar has also suggested that Muslims apologize for the medieval occupation of Spain, called efforts at interfaith dialogue stupid, and called the U.S. election of an African-American president "a historic exoticism and predictable economic disaster." Aznar also attacked Spanish government campaign against drunk driving -- while accepting an award from a vintner's association -- saying, "Let me decide for myself; that's what liberty consists of. Who asked you to come and drive for me? Let me drink my wine in peace; I'm not putting anyone at risk."

Aznar recently kicked off a more defensible campaign to drum up international support for Israel, but the folks in Tel Aviv might want to consider whether he's really their most effective cheerleader.

OLUSEGUN OBASANJO

Old job: President of Nigeria, 1999-2007

New image: Once lauded for helping his country transition from a military dictatorship to a genuine, if chaotic and violent, democracy, Obasanjo has more recently seen his reputation tarnished by a series of corruption investigations. Then there's the fact that Obasanjo has never really willingly stepped aside. He attempted to amend the Nigerian Constitution to allow himself a third term, and when that failed, he installed the moribund Umaru Yar'Adua as his successor ahead of an election widely believed to be rigged. It was suspected by many in Nigeria that Yar'Adua was chosen because he was seen as weak and could be manipulated by the Obasanjo loyalists in his cabinet (Obasanjo's political influence has faded significantly in recent years, however).

In addition to being hit with new revelations of corruption committed during his time in office, including hundreds of millions of dollars in alleged bribes from U.S. contractor Halliburton, Obasanjo became involved in a messy personal scandal when his son accused him in court of sleeping with his own daughter-in-law. Recently, thousands of residents of a town in southwestern Nigeria have protested plans to demolish their homes after Obasanjo acquired their land. His daughter Iyabo, a Nigerian senator, was also embarrassed when she was forced to admit to withdrawing thousands of dollars from the country's health budget to pay for a retreat in Ghana.

Obasanjo has continued to maintain a high international profile, serving as a U.N. envoy to peace talks in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but his traditionalist views have sometimes embarrassed the organization. At a U.N. event this year with former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, he called homosexuality an "abomination" and dismissed individuals' right to privacy, saying "You want to make love to a horse?"

 

JOSEPH ESTRADA

 

Old job: President of the Philippines, 1998-2001

New image: Action-movie-star-turned-president Joseph Estrada was ousted in 2001 after serving less than half his term amid a flurry of corruption charges. Estrada has also admitted to having numerous children out of wedlock and reportedly made crucial policy decisions with the help of a "midnight cabinet" of old drinking buddies. He was finally convicted of "plunder" in 2007 and sentenced to life imprisonment, but was pardoned by his successor, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, just a few weeks later under a deal in which he promised not to go back into politics.

But Estrada broke his promise and entered the 2010 presidential election, doing so, he told the New York Times, "so I can clean up my name and prove to those who removed me that they were wrong." Instead, what he got was a new legal mess with months of challenges over whether he was eligible to run, having already served as president. Estrada eventually won his case, but lost the election to Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino, son of former President Corazon Aquino.

Now Estrada is preparing to defend himself from a U.S. lawsuit filed by the daughters of a Filipino publicist who say the former president was complicit in their father's killing in 2001. Estrada has joked about the case, telling the Philippine Daily Inquirer, "That's bullshit. What will they get from me? Where will I get the money?"

Estrada remains popular among poor Filipinos and continues to influence the country's politics through control of his party, but the country might be better off if the action hero went back to focusing on his movie career.

THAKSIN SHINAWATRA

Old job: Prime minister of Thailand, 2001-2006

New image: Since being deposed in a 2006 coup amid allegations of graft and human rights abuses, Thaksin has lived a peripatetic existence. The former billionaire businessman has served as a "special ambassador" for Nicaragua and an economic advisor in Cambodia, and was briefly owner of the Manchester City soccer club. Thaksin reportedly lived in Germany for more than a year,  keeping a low profile.*

This year, Thaksin's supporters, known as "red shirts," occupied central Bangkok and stormed government buildings throughout the country in an effort to force the government to step down. Around 90 people were killed in the ensuing clashes between often-armed protesters and police before the two sides agreed to a cease-fire. Thai courts charged Thaksin in absentia for his role in fomenting the protests. Although Thaksin was vocally supportive of the red shirts -- he once called into a rally and promised "to make all Thais rich" if his supporters were able to regain political power -- he denies funding their efforts. He has also been convicted on additional corruption charges since going into exile, though he maintains that those charges are politically motivated. 

Since the red shirts' defeat, Thaksin has cut back on his media appearances and political activities. In August, he gave up his position with the Cambodian government, helping ease relations between the two countries.

Rebuttal: Read responses to Thaksin's inclusion on this list from Robert Amsterdam and Jane Foley.

*This section has been corrected since original publication.

Krafft Angerer/Getty Images; OLIVIER MORIN/AFP/Getty Images; ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/Getty Images; NOEL CELIS/AFP/Getty Images; PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL/AFP/Getty Images

The List

It's the Chinese, Stupid

Are Democrats so afraid of getting crushed in the midterm elections that they've turned to demonizing China?

It's a political strategy as tried and true as stump speeches, barbecues, and baby-kissing: When times are tough in your district, find someone else to blame. With U.S. midterm election campaigns now in high gear, the boogeyman of choice in regions with high unemployment and sluggish manufacturing is -- unsurprisingly -- China. And with President Barack Obama struggling to cajole an apathetic base, Democrats have been playing the red-menace card more than their Republican opponents.

Democrats in the rust belt -- the part of the country hardest hit by the downturn in steel, auto manufacturing, and other heavy industries -- are making a concerted effort to blame unemployment on outsourcing, painting their Republican opponents as pro-corporate politicians who care more about maximizing profits than they do about keeping jobs in Michigan, Illinois, Pennsylvania, or Ohio. But in a year when many Republicans are shedding the establishment mantle in favor of Tea Party populism, it doesn't seem to be working.

Ohio Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher

Running for: U.S. Senate

Quote: "Congressman Rob Portman knows how to grow the economy ... in China"

Strategy: A television ad with this tag line features a map of China over opponent Portman's name, as well as a slightly sinister black-and-white shot of Chinese factory workers. As Fisher, Ohio's lieutenant governor, has told the Associated Press, he thinks that "This election will be about a choice between the past and the future... It will be a choice between made in America and made in China."

Ohio's job market has been in a 10-year recession as industrial jobs have fled the state; the Senate race this year has been all about who can get more Ohioans back to work. Fisher blames liberal trade policy for sending jobs overseas, while his opponent, former U.S. Rep Rob Portman (R-OH) blames the incumbent Democratic legislature. Every single trade agreement "should be reassessed ... and then determined whether or not it should be renegotiated," says Fisher. But Portman counters that most of the jobs Ohio has lost have gone to other states, not foreign countries. So far, the strategy doesn't seem to be helping Fisher. A recent Reuters poll puts Portman ahead with a 13-point lead.

Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland

Running for: re-election

Quote: "Kasich and Wall Street made millions outsourcing while Ohio lost jobs."

Strategy: Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland, who is up for re-election against former U.S. Rep. John Kasich, has been running a similar television ad to Fisher's. He says that in 2000, his opponent voted for a "special trade deal forChina," which his campaign claims resulted in the loss of 91,000 Ohio jobs. Strickland has repeatedly attacked his opponent for voting in favor of normalizing trade with China when he was in Congress.

But both a Cleveland Plain Dealer editorial and an independent report by PolitiFact, a Pulitzer-Prize winning national project of the St. Petersburg Times, have debunked Strickland's assertions, saying that the numbers are hard to calculate and his conclusions are largely based on the research of a pro-union think tank. During a debate this month, Kasich refuted the assertion, saying that Ohio had not lost any jobs to China. Again, the anti-free-trade rhetoric doesn't seem to be enough to help Strickland this election year. A Real Clear Politics average of polls puts Kasich ahead by 4.2 points, though that gap might be closing.

U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA)

Running for: U.S. Senate

Quote: "Before he went to Washington, Congressman Toomey made a fortune on Wall Street and worked for a billionaire in Hong Kong." 

Strategy: It's old hat to chastise incumbents for having gone over the dark side in Washington, but it's a fairly new tactic to hit senatorial wannabes for their ties to Hong Kong, of all places. That's the line of attack Joe  Sestak is using on his opponent, former U.S. Rep. Pat Toomey, in one of the country's closest Senate races.

The Washington Post reported that Toomey "did research on capital market formation in southeast Asia" in the early 1990s for a company owned by the Canadian-Chinese billionaire Chan brothers, Gerald and Ronnie, the latter a former managing director of the scandal-ridden energy company Enron. There is no evidence that Toomey was involved with Enron, though the association can't help but conjure up negative feelings in voters. And, to further cast aspersions on Toomey's dangerous Sinophilia, the Sestak campaign also cites one of the Chan brothers saying, "Western democracy is a dead end."

Toomey's campaign manager countered that by telling the Post, "The Democrats must be getting pretty desperate to dig up what Pat did 20 years ago."

Lansing Mayor Virgil "Virg" Bernero

Running for: Governor

Quote: "When Snyder was a director and CEO at Gateway, the company eliminated 19,000 American jobs and outsourced work to China. Snyder cashed out $14 million in stocks before selling what was left of Gateway to a Chinese company." 

Strategy: As the Detroit Free Press puts it: "It's déjà vu all over again as the issue of China and jobs is playing out as a theme in the governor's race." In Michigan, where unemployment is over 13 percent, thanks to massive downturn in manufacturing, China has long been conjured as the very face of evil outsourcing. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Virg Bernero has been accusing his Republican opponent, Rick Snyder, of sending jobs to China while he was an executive at Gateway. An image of Snyder's smiling mug floating in the Pacific Ocean, with a red arrow pointing from the United States to China (presumably indicating the alleged flow of jobs) is a regular feature on Bernero's paper fliers and online campaign sites.

But it will take more than attaching Snyder's name to Chinese outsourcing to help Bernero catch up. A Rasmussen poll last week gave Snyder a 13-point lead over his opponent.

Illinois Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias

Running for: U.S. Senate

Quote: "When you hear Congressman Kirk talk about job creation, he's talking about jobs he created in China."

Strategy: According to Alexi Giannoulias, among U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk's alleged sins is the founding of the U.S.-China Working Group, a group that acts as a liaison between Congress, the State Department, academia, and the business community on matters pertaining to U.S.-China relations. And in 2009, Kirk was caught on camera saying that he told Chinese officials that "the budget numbers that the U.S. government had put forward should not be believed."

Giannoulias's rallying cry is echoed by organized labor groups in Illinois. A news release from the Chicago Federation of Labor reads: "A founder of the U.S.-China Working Group, Kirk has voted against legislation to crack down on China's unfair trade practices and against an investigation of China's currency practices."

Kirk's campaign has responded to the charges that the candidate is in Beijing's pocket by saying that Giannoulias wants "to start a trade war" that could cost Illinois thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in exports. A Fox News poll Sept. 29 shows a neck-and-neck race for President Barack Obama's former Senate seat. Kirk is at 42 percent, while Giannoulias claims 40 percent of likely voters.

Ohio.gov; JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images; Alex Wong/Getty Images; Wikipedia; Jeff Haynes/Getty Images