Among the planet's significant political figures, no one is quite like Lula. Born into extreme poverty, illiterate until the age of 10, forced to quit school at the age of 12 to work as a shoe shiner, losing a finger at his factory job at 19, and then becoming a labor activist, union leader, and founder of a political party devoted to a defense of laborers (the Workers' Party, or PT), Lula has always been, in all respects, the exact opposite of the rich, dynastic, oligarch-loyal, aristocratic prototype that has traditionally wielded power in Brazil.
That's precisely what makes Lula's rise to power, and his incomparable success once he obtained it, so extraordinary. And that's what, to this very day, makes him so worth listening to regarding the world's most complex and pressing political questions: As the ascension of right-wing nationalism and populism at times seems unstoppable, Lula is one of the world's very few political figures of the last several decades able to figure out how to win national elections in a large country based on left-wing populism in the best sense of that term.
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