CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Dictatorships and Double Standards

Jun 11, 2007

It is the accepted wisdom of our friends on the far left that ‘any enemy of America must be a friend of mine’. That is, for the radical left, any regime – no matter how dictatorial – that hates America can’t be half bad, and often our leftist intellectualoids will go to great lengths to defend these tyrannies.

This of course occurred with monotonous regularity during the Cold War. The Soviet Union and its allies, we were told by Western leftists, were really workers’ paradises, and places of intellectual and cultural freedom.

The only problem was that whenever people had a chance to vote with their feet – they usually did not have freedom to vote in any other way – it was all one-way traffic. They invariably fled these socialist paradises in droves. But I am not aware of great masses seeking to flock to these Marxist utopias.

Well times have not changed. Sure, the Wall has come down, but Western lefties are still just as myopic as before, preferring to champion police states, just as long as they are avowed America-haters. And they are just as blind to human rights abuses, just as long as they are not carried out by America or her allies.

Consider the closure of an alternative media outlet for example. Lefties would be shouting about freedom of speech and violation of human rights if it took place in the US or among its friends. But if it happens in a place like Venezuela, where its freedom-loving tyrant, Hugo Chavez, is an avowed America-hater, then there is strange silence from the left. Or worse, some of the loony left actually seek to defend the closure.

Christopher Orlet picks up this story in the June 7, 2007 American Spectator.  “This week in the pages of the Guardian newspaper I chanced to read another fine defense of dictatorship. It was penned by no less a grandee then Victor Navasky, publisher emeritus of the Nation and chairman of the Columbia Journalism Review. Like many on the left, Navasky never met a dictator he didn’t like – as long as that despot claimed to represent a revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat, or, like the fascist Saddam Hussein, was an enemy of the U.S.”

He continues, “This time Navasky, a professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, vigorously defended Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s decision to shut down a major television network. RCTV’s screen had barely faded to black before Navasky was hurrying to defend his hero Hugo, writing that ‘non-renewals [Leftspeak for censorship] are…meant to guarantee bottom-up democracy, and the people’s access to and ownership of the various modes of communication.’ No, that’s not a line out of Animal Farm. A revered boardmember of the Authors Guild, International PEN, and the Committee to Protect Journalists, and director of the Delacorte Center for Magazine Journalism at Columbia University actually suggests that shutting down the opposition media improves communication, strengthens democracy, and is generally good for ‘the people’.”

The mental and linguistic gymnastics needed to defend such an outrage are of course considerable. Indeed, it “is both educational and highly entertaining to read Navasky’s defense of authoritarian rule: Chavez’s nationalization program is no more than a ‘hostile takeover with a more-than-fair negotiating price,’ and while laws that bar ‘messages contrary to the security of the nation’ (i.e., anti-Chavez messages) are ‘problematic,’ Hugo is not as bad as his buddy Fidel. Or, I presume, Stalin. So cut the guy some slack already. It’s not like he’s as malicious as George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. And as for Reporters without Borders’ declaration that RCTV’s shutdown is ‘a serious attack on editorial pluralism,’ that can only mean that the Paris-based organization has been infiltrated by the CIA.”

This act of censorship is simply the latest in a string of anti-democratic measures, which the left not only does not condemn, but is more than happy to in fact praise. “Nearly nine years into his presidency Chavez is busily consolidating his power by nationalizing the last of Venezuela’s vital infrastructure, including the ‘strategic’ telecom and energy industries, banks and mass media. Earlier this year the Economist reported that Chavez’s ‘supporters already hold all the seats in the National Assembly, because the opposition boycotted a legislative election in December 2005. He also controls the courts….Other proposed constitutional changes will curb the powers of state governors and mayors, and remove the bar on the indefinite re-election of the president’.”

But, hey, Chavez hates Bush, so he can’t be all bad. But he is not through yet: “Chavez has now turned his attention to the sole remaining institutions of authority in Venezuela that remain outside his control: the Catholic Church and nongovernmental organizations. Both have been highly critical of Chavez’s rule. Recently he told bishops they should read more Marx and Lenin – after all ‘Christ was an authentic communist’.”

Well, now that opposition television has been closed down, what will the hapless citizenry of Venezuela have to look forward to? “Venezuelan’s will now have the opportunity to watch hours of government TV, featuring exciting anti-gringo speeches by President Chavez, third-rate entertainers singing patriotic songs of praise to President Chavez, footage of peasants picking coffee beans, and old black and white documentaries about the Cuban Revolution. Now that’s what I call Must See TV.”

America and the West are far from perfect. But at least opposition media is allowed to constantly criticise, and hold leaders to account. And the West also allows a very vocal left to denounce it on a regular basis. It seems such freedom to criticise and speak out is just not a hallmark of so many of these regimes so loved by the left.

www.spectator.org/dsp_article.asp?art_id=11548

[950 words]

3 Responses to Dictatorships and Double Standards

  • So true, Bill. And while Chavez enlightens his hapless people with ‘true entertainment’, he’s also presenting Leftist actor Danny Glover with a very generous cash investment in his new movie. The Venezuelan movie makers are not happy to say the least. You can see what they have in common, Chavez wants to destroy the vitality of his nation and Glover et al want to destroy the vitality of theirs.
    It’s certain that Chavez wouldn’t allow any of his people the freedom that Glover enjoys of being able to hammer his government. And as he goes about impoverishing his people (as Socialist regimes love to do), it’s certain they won’t live the jet-setting lifestyle he enjoys.
    Dee Graf

  • Bill, I know nothing about Victor Navasky, but I am reminded of the startling contradiction posed by the painter, Pablo Picasso, being feted by Russia as their most famous western convert. Picasso too espoused communism but lived like a grandee; though a man of extraordinary creativity, he too exercised a destructive and nihilistic influence on his immediate circle and on culture. “Modern Art and the Death of Culture” by H.R. Rookmaaker is an excellent guide to the influence of art on society. Leaving that aside, your article has led me to Navasky’s the “Nation” magazine, which is a real insight into the atheist/ secularist mind.
    David Skinner, UK

  • For some time my wife and I lived in Saigon, Vietnam which is under a strict communist government.
    I can assure those radical left wingers that the people there do not perceive themselves living in a worker’s utopia.
    In fact on any given day a line forms outside the American Embassy from 7.30 AM, this line extends nearly two blocks long, of people wanting to leave Vietnam.
    The Australian Embassy was processing some 10,000 applications whilst I was there.
    The average salary was only $75.00 per month, there was no transprt system and to see a doctor you waited in line for three days.
    There is an abundance of orphans but corruption is so bad that it is not advisable to even try.
    If illness comes and you need an ambulance you are immediately asked if you can afford to have one come, if you can’t afford one then that is too bad you have to make your own arrangements.
    As far as can see communism breeds only poverty and corruption, it removes the instinct of self improvement and brings despair.
    The rhetoric may sound good but it does not work in practice – ask any Vietnamese refugee.
    Jim Sturla

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