Sean Hannity grinned and seemed to bounce up and down like he was plugged into an electric socket as he ripped into Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan president who had just succumbed to cancer. Hannity was joined in his death gloat by Michelle Malkin, one of the more delightfully odious voices on the far right.
They had no interest at all to understand who this dead guy had actually been in life. Their escalating duet was so full of hate-fueled fantasy it was laughable. The Venezuela under Chavez that Malkin described through her trademark snarling lips was a vision of North Korea, not a place in South America with Carter-approved free elections.
Three faces of Hugo Chavez, with an image of the beloved South American liberator Simon Bolivar
The mainstream US media was not much better. A Time magazine obit was headlined: "Death of a Demagogue." NBC's Brian Williams, the picture of perfect middle-brow authority, put it this way: "The words 'Venezuelan strongman' so often preceded his name, and for good reason." Williams ended his obit by saying, "All this matters a lot to the US, since Venezuela sits on top of a lot of oil and that's how this now gets interesting for the United States."
Williams' assumptions were rooted in the much-reinforced, traditional North American view of las Americas that reduces poor nations south of the border -- except of course those with lots of oil -- to Henry Kissinger's status as easily-ignored because they aren't part of something called "the arc of history," which strangely seemed to coincide with Europe and the United States.
A March 7th New York Times editorial presented a schoolbook example of North American hypocrisy as it listed all the various imperfections that existed in Venezuela's governing reality under Chavez. "His legacy is strained by the undermining of democratic institutions." No mention, of course, of Florida-2000 and the "undermining of democracy" in the US that arguably led to two disastrous wars and an economy run into a ditch by Wall Street Ponzi thieves. The Times also noted that in Venezuela there were "shocking levels of corruption" and "billions have been squandered through inept and careless management." I guess, in North America, corruption is just "too big to report" when you're evaluating a South American leftist who has just kicked the bucket.
But there was hope for the Times. Across from its editorial, there was an op-ed by former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva -- a former union leader popularly known as Lula. Unlike the average gringo captured in the imperial behemoth to the North, Lula was able to look at Chavez, the man and the legacy, with a longer, more balanced view.
"History will affirm, justifiably, the role Hugo Chavez played in the integration of Latin America, and the significance of his 14-year presidency to the poor people of Venezuela."
Lula did not preclude that there is room for fair-minded criticism of Hugo Chavez, given the man was imperfect and had feet of clay. The point was to look at him through the eyes of North, Central and South American hemispheric history versus the short-term and often infantile ideological visions of North American critics.
In North America these days, assumptions about the free-market and the profit-motive as god rule our corporate airways so thoroughly it's hard for the average North American to imagine what it's like for a politico to actually identify with the poor and the powerless. Here, for a mainstream media personality to utter a kind word about the dead Hugo Chavez's legacy could mean career suicide.
The idea that poor people in union with each other had just as much right to claim the benefits of the oil in the ground below them as those people with access to executive jets who were rich and powerful ... well, it was just a bit too Marxist. And as we all know, anyone who has ever found any intelligence in Marxian analysis must eat their young.
In the same vein, when it came to Hugo Chavez it was off limits to even consider the Hegelian idea of history moving in a dialectical fashion. I think this is what Lula meant when he wrote "History will affirm" Hugo Chavez. The Hegelian thesis would be the world of Venezuela and South America before Chavez, and the Chavez years would be the anti-thesis. The future will be the synthesis, an unfolding reality that cannot avoid the powerful influence of Hugo Chavez.
I can see Michelle Malkin's lips pulling back into a snarl at the mention of these things. But the real arc of history is greater than knuckleheads like Malkin and Hannity -- even his eminence Henry Kissinger. In the end, thanks in large part to Hugo Chavez, there can be no turning back the clock in Venezuela and South America.
At the Birth of Empire
I recently watched the three-hour cinema epic Rough Riders, written and directed by the right-wing John Milius who is notorious for the original Red Dawn and for co-writing Dirty Harry and Apocalypse Now. Tom Berenger plays Theodore Roosevelt as he wills himself from a bureaucratic assistant secretary of the Navy into a blood and guts commander of men he compares with the rough, bloody hordes of Ghengis Khan. The film is as much a paean to the warrior myth as it is a loving evocation of the birth of 20th century American imperialism.
Director John Milius and Tom Berenger as Teddy Roosevelt after taking the San Juan Heights