March 16, 2007

Et tu, Barbara?

Quico says: So Barb Walters' drooling interview with Chávez pretty much blows a hole in my earlier, only-cranks-take- Chávez-seriously-in- the-US argument.

Deep, deep sigh.

Frankly, I find it all confusing and upsetting. Gringo liberals have no trouble at all seeing George W. Bush's overheated demonization of "terrorists" for what it is: an ideological alibi designed to rally his supporters' unquestioning loyalty, a crass ploy that allows him to delegitimize his critics in his drive to dispense with procedural niceties like, y'know, habeas corpus and the right to a public trial.

This mechanism is perfectly clear to y'all when Bush does it. The paradox is that you draw a blank when Chávez makes the exact same move.

Please get it through your heads: Chávez's rabid condemnations of Bush are not about Bush at all. What Chávez is doing is building up a credible foreign straw man to help him delegitimize dissent and consolidate autocratic control over society. That's what's at stake here.

For Chávez, demonizing Bush is just the first step in a strategy to tar all domestic dissidents as unpatriotic, disloyal, basically treasonous. It's precisely the same thing Cheney does when he says his critics are "emboldening the enemy," or "undermining the troops," or whatever the latest phrasing on those GOP talking point is.

Chavista bushwhackery works in exactly the same way. More than anyone, US liberals should be wise to this bait-and-switch.

If anything, Chávez's brand of manipulation is even more cynical: however much Bush hypes up the terrorist threat for political purposes, in the wake of 9/11 it's clear that Islamic radicals really do pose a threat to the US. But the threat Chávez alleges is entirely bogus: there's simply no chance of a US invasion of Venezuela.

In fact, this delegitimation-by-association jujitsu does far more harm to civil liberties in Venezuela than in the US, because our state institutions are far more politicized than yours. Chávez already controls every putatively independent branch of the state. Without independent courts to check his power, without career prosecutors able to scrutinize his moves, without an autonomous ombudsman or comptroller, Chávez's leeway to deny our most basic civil rights is already much, much wider than Bush's.

The resulting climate of intimidation and enforced ideological conformity would send your average US liberal scurrying for Canada.

Just the other week, to take just one example, Chávez "warned" that the CIA is trying to infiltrate his newly created Community Councils. These are neighborhood committees that have been allocated billions of dollars, bodies Chávez hopes will eventually take over the functions now vested in directly elected mayors and state governors.

Now, try to think through what happens when Chávez says the CIA is trying to infiltrate them. Suddenly, anyone at the local council with a dissenting opinion becomes suspect of treason. Just by raising the prospect of CIA meddling in the Community Councils, Chavez manages to ensure complete ideological docility from them. It's a strategy chavistas have used again and again, to delegitimize everything from opposition presidential bids to bus drivers' strikes.

My point is that Chávez's whole anti-Bush shtick should be understood for what it is: a mechanism of social control. It's not about you, it's about us.

Addendum: A couple of readers write in to note that, as one put it,
Barbara Walters is like that with *everybody*. She could have Osama Bin Laden on her show and find something nice to say about him. Her show is where disgraced celebrities go for their first public reappearances since they know they'll get softballs and sympathetic glances all night. I wouldn't take her as the pulse of the mainstream media, hard-hitting-question-wise.

March 15, 2007

Idi Rafael Amin Frías

Quico says: I went to see The Last King of Scotland the other day and frankly I didn't much like it. I thought the script was poor and the plot was contrived and insufferably Hollywoodesque. What got on my nerves the most, though, is how weirdly politics-free it was, considering the subject. It's an old pet peeve of mine, this gringo inability to quite grasp that politics take place in poor countries.

I was still curious about Amin, though; it's an itch that Last King of Scotland singularly failed to scratch. So I went poking around the internet for archival footage of the man. Then I hit the motherlode:

This documentary - produced way back in the day by France's Le Figaro media group - is 90 minutes long, and granted, most of it is just Amin talking. But it's gripping. For long stretches, I just couldn't look away.

Scroll to 8 minutes in and see him anecdotizing just before pledging to arm Uganda to the teeth. Or go to 31 minutes in and check out the electricity in the air, the sheer sense of menace, as Amin rants at his cabinet. Then go up to 1:08 and hear his promise to send Foreign Aid from Uganda to England, plus his plans for a kind of Ugandan Telesur.

The easy charm, the love affair with the camera, the populist ranting, the screwball anecdotes, the weird doctrinal intensity, the messianic streak...there's no mistaking the Chavezian overtones in all of this. If anything, with his calm, collected public speaking style, Amin comes across as a lot less crazy than Chávez - though, in fairness, he also says some stuff that's way more bizarre than anything Chávez has come up with so far.

One reader writes in to note "For the record -- Last King of Scotland was not a film made by gringos. Director/production company are British."

Another adds:
Too bad you didn't watch Last King of Scotland in Caracas. I did, and there is a scene about halfway through when Idi Amin talks about how he never wanted to be president, how he only did it because the people wanted it, and how he is doing it for love.

The whole fully packed cinema just cracked up in laughter...

Watching my standards circling the drain...

Quico says: It's true, now Caracas Chronicles is on Noticiero Digital.

March 14, 2007

The Ann Coulter of the Left

Quico says: So Chávez has wound up his Bushwhacking Tour 2007, to the general delight of the kind of people who generally delight in that sort of thing. This time, he dissed Pol Pot, Hitler and Attila the Hun by calling the US "the cruellest, most terrible, most cynical, most murderous empire that has existed in all of history." Then he called Bush a political corpse, and later a "son of a dot-dot-dot," letting his rabid Argentine ñángara audience fill in the blank.


Like the fat, sweaty Ann Coulter of the left he increasingly resembles, Chávez has trapped himself in a never-ending contest to one-up himself. See, once you've called George W. Bush a "murderous monster", there's no point just calling him a "monster" next time: it won't get reported. If you want to make some waves, you're gonna have to call him a "child-bombing murderous monster" next time, and a "drunk, child-bombing murderous monster" the time after that. Once started, it's a cycle you can't really stop.

In vintage Coulter fashion, Chávez's rhetoric has sunk to unimaginable depths as he chases that next big, incendiary headline. His need to continually crank up the hyperbole has led him deeper and deeper into territory so absurd, so foul, so repugnant that, by now, all but the fringiest of the lefty fringe recognize him as a liability; an embarrassment to the cause.

Even The Nation recognized the guy had gone over the edge long ago, running this tongue-in-cheek bit last year:

Actually, this cuts the other way as well: failing to realize how absurd, how foul, how repugnant chavista overstatement has gotten pretty much qualifies you as a member in good standing of the fringiest of the lefty fringe by now. I mean, I hate to break it to you, but if you hear the guy saying that George W. Bush makes Adolf Hitler look like a suckling baby and you find yourself nodding in agreement, that right there is a pretty good indication that you're a crank.

And that's another parallel with Coulter: adherence to the compendia of overheated gobbledygook that Chávez mistakes for an ideology has become an excellent proxy for your overall political judgment. I mean, if you don't even have the sense to realize what a buffoon Hugo Chávez is, why should you expect anyone to take you seriously on anything else?