Thursday, August 16, 2007

Light Dawning?

Saw this from Jeb Koogler at the Moderate Voice and I thought "Hmmmm....": Getting Real About Chavez

For a long time, I’ve defended Hugo Chavez. I thought that he was fighting a worthy battle against greed and corruption, against years of foreign domination and cronyism. I thought he was trying to improve the lives of poor people, while establishing a strong economy, an independent and self-respecting nation, and a vibrant democracy.

But now, after watching events unfold in the past few months, I’m ready to admit that I was mistaken.

Like many of those who lean left, I figured that Chavez’s megalomaniacal governing qualities were a bit unnerving, but not anything serious to be worried about. In retrospect, I realize that I was willing to overlook his authoritarian tendencies because of one main thing: his avowed commitment to social justice issues and his dedication to ending poverty.

Recently, however, I’ve changed my mind in a major way. Although I have tried to remain optimistic, Chavez’s actions in the past few months clearly indicate that he is set on becoming a dictator. Perhaps a dictator dedicated to the poor, but a dictator nonetheless.

It has always surprised me that Democrats and other liberals in this country should have been so callous about the erosion of fundamental political rights that have been endemic to the Chavez regime, up to and including the doing away with the idea of Democratic rule.

"Oh, but Chavez cares for the poor! The poor! The poor poor! You are a beast to worry about things like rights when there are poor people!"

It really makes one worry about how committed the "liberal" wing of American politics is to our own set of fundamental rights, despite all the protestations they make about Bush and company. Evidently, the only problem they have with Bush is the identity of the people they feel are getting screwed over. It is a scary thought since it is hard to tell sometimes what is rhetoric and what is unhinged lunacy in that bunch. Obviously, I have always felt that anyone kow-towing to or making excuses for Chavez had the intellect of a rutabaga, but it is nice to see at least once person backing away from the ledge in fit of common sense.

Koogler continues:

Unfortunately, many of us on the left have been silent on this issue for far too long. While we have been quick to criticize our own administration and other foreign governments (think Vladimir Putin) for undemocratic policies, there has been a tendency to overlook the authoritarian governing styles of leftist regimes like that of Venezuela. For some reason — probably because these leaders profess the dogma of economic equality and social reform — many of us on the left have been quick to defend these liberal autocrats.

But it’s time to wake up and get our priorities straight. We should not be blind to what is going on in Venezuela. We can no longer forgive Chavez’s dictatorial tendencies just because of his avowed commitment to the country’s poor. Indeed, it is a grave mistake to overlook tyranny or authoritarianism even when it is couched in the rhetoric of liberal reform and social justice. Ultimately, while Chavez’s vision of an end to poverty and the creation of a more equitable society is an honorable and an important one, his way of achieving these goals is not. Upholding democracy is infinitely more important than any of these other aims.

The worst troubles and the worst human rights abuses occur not while democratic institutions are still alive and kicking, but after they have been gutted or done away with all together. The problem with Germany in the 1930's wasn't just that they elected Hitler, it was that they allowed him to dismantle any mechanism for removing him from power. At first such things can be done with the help of the popular will, but eventually the regime holds onto power by thuggery and murder. That is the reason you let the opposition speak. That is the reason the opposition has rights that may not be stripped from them. That is why the forms of democratic society are important and inviolable.

That is why any supporter of Chavez should be shunned as being nothing better than a brownshirt themselves.


Uriah said...

The truth that Koogler refuses to admit is that they couldn't care less about the poor and neither could Chavez. His only attraction for them is his obvious fear and hatred of America and George Bush, which they share.

The Iconic Midwesterner said...

It is the process of projection I don't get. The left in this country, including many in the mainstream, seem to project an image upon these foreign leader that have very little to do with the actual behavior of the leader involved. The old joke is Jimmy Carter never met a two-bit thug dictator he didn't like, but there is something that rings true about the charge. The desire to make a fetish of Chavez, like Castro or Che before him, is not matched by the right. You didn't see Republicans making a fetish over Franco, or military coup leader in Greece or Portugal or Argentina etc.

I fnd the whole process of idolizing left wing thuggery odd and disturbing.

PatHMV said...

My little brother has spent time in poor Central American countries, and he came back quite the committed near-socialist. He truly believes, now, that the poor are too uneducated, too ignorant, to know what is best for them, so they need to be governed by some benevolent dictator.

One of the things people, mostly on the left, don't realize is that we are a free country today not because we have the Bill of Rights on paper, but because we created a structure and a process for governing that carefully balanced competing interest groups and power structures so that power would remain defuse, and everybody would have a strong incentive, and a strong voice, to keep power from becoming too concentrated. Lots of despotic countries have really great-sounding bills of rights protecting all sorts of freedoms... it's just that the structure of power distribution in the government is established to allow for one person or one party rule, so there's nobody to enforce the lovely bill of rights against the dictator.

Jeb is one of those people, like former President Carter, who can imagine our own officials as guilty of a wide range of evils, but who simultaneous belief that other governments' officials are just misunderstood seekers of peace.

Tully said...

And the only reason communism hasn't worked is that the right people haven't done it yet...

Sorry, used to hear that one all the time from Marxist profs on campus. It was the last refuge they had.

The Iconic Midwesterner said...

Maybe this also explains the flip side of the coin as well. If all the ills caused by left-wing dictators can be forgiven because their heart's are in the right place it must stand to reason that anyone right of center must be evil bastards becaus, by definition, their hearts must be in the wrong place.

It all makes sense in an "after-school special" kinda way.

Tully said...

I've spent a little time in Western third-world countries myself. While I always came away with a deep appreciation of how good we've got it here, somehow I never had the urge to advocate dictatorship as a solution to their problems.

Of course, most of those nations already lived under semi-dictatorships of one sort or another, and there seemed to be a direct correlation between "bounded government" democracy and the actual conditions lived in by the populace, and that may have colored my perceptions. :-)

C Stanley said...

I don't know, I think there's something to pathmv's brother's experience...

I'm deeply planted well to the right of center, but when I spent one week in Central America my perceptions changed profoundly. It's not that I became uprooted; didn't change my perspective on the relative ills of leftist politics vs. right.

But I was made more aware of WHY democracies don't function without middle classes, and why people in banana republics are more inclined, when given an opportunity, to vote in a left winger than a right winger. It's not that the people in those countries believe that the left winger has better intentions, it's that gaining freedom and maintaining democracy isn't even on their radar screens. Their first (and almost only) goal is to remove power and wealth from the rich and powerful- and of course it's the left wingers who speak of doing this (that they hide an agenda of putting that wealth and power into the governments' hands is overlooked either through naivete or a feeling that it's still the lesser of two evils).

And to some degree, I can understand why a leftie here in the US would say, "it's not our place to override the wishes of the people in those countries" but it's a shame that people from the left and right can't agree that neither type of dictatorship is really acceptable and standing by (or cheering) while people are decieved into voting one in is not a moral position to take, even in the guise of "respecting the wishes of the people".

But also, people like Koogler show breathtaking naivete (though at least he now has the good sense to admit it) when they gave Chavez the benefit of the doubt. It seems to me little more than an extension of the pass that such people give to 'the left' in general. The mindset seems to be that those politicians who profess to represent the little guy, and profess to "care" are definitionally the good guys until proven otherwise; and the standard for that proof is almost impossible to meet. Almost any discordance can be explained away, and meanwhile the right wing politicians are always assumed to be up to no good because by definition they're the bad guys.

I can understand this mindset from people who've lived under oligarchies and right wing dictatorships for generations, but in the US it's enigmatic that people would think this way.

The Iconic Midwesterner said...

I hear what you are saying Christine, and it certainly fits in a lot of central American countries that were basically ruled by wealthy oligarchs. It is hard not to have sympathy for "power to the people" movements in those sorts of places.

In Venezuela however, Chavez isn't targeting a wealthy landed oligarchy but the middle class, which when you think about it has always been a part of the playbook. The Soviet Union solidified its power not by going after the aristocracy (which had been ousted before the communists came to power) but by going after the "kulaks" which was the best semi-feudal Russia could offer as a middle class. (Plus, "kulaks" as a class overlapped with Jews, so in the land of the pogrom it was a two for one special.)

What is disturbing is the left of this country harbors such emnity for those that make up the middle class of Venezuela, who are actually (as a group) far poorer than the American leftists who hate them so and want to see them stripped of all economic and political rights.