Things to Remember – Hugo Chavez

This is from one of my favorite writers, Megan McArdle, as she writes for the Daily Beast:

I’ve been a bit befuddled by some of what my colleage Michael Moynihan terms “love letters” to the departed Hugo Chavez (such a sonorous voice rolling out of the television for hours on end!  Pity he was insufficiently authoritarian, though).  

Now, I am sad that Hugo Chavez is dead, because it is always sad when a human being dies, and a universe ends.  And I felt no particular urgency, after he died, in writing the obligatory piece pointing out that Hugo Chavez was a strongman with profoundly anti-democratic tendencies, who believed in elections only insofar as they suited him, and also, has left Venezuela’s economy in a parlous long-term position.  But then people started defending–or minimizing to the point of untruth–the clearly indefensible.  Moreover, my Facebook feed lit up with people stating, as a fact, that capitalists just hate Hugo Chavez because he gave stuff to the poor.

So it seems worthwhile to point out that in the long run, Hugo Chavez was probably bad for the poor of Venezuela; that he would have already been very bad for the poor of Venezuela if he had not been happily bailed out by the world oil market; and that even beyond his mismanagement of the economy, Hugo Chavez should not command respect.  His means were despicable, even if you agree with the ends.

Last item first.  William Dobson writes the brief for the prosecution:

[U]nlike Castro and many other autocrats, Chávez didn’t fear elections; He embraced them. Most opposition leaders will tell you that Venezuelan elections are relatively clean. The problem isn’t Election Day—It’s the other 364 days. Rather than stuffing ballot boxes, Chávez understood that he could tilt the playing field enough to make it nearly impossible to defeat him. Thus, the regime’s electoral wizards engineered gerrymandering schemes that made anything attempted in the American South look like child’s play. Chávez’s campaign coffers were fed by opaque slush funds holding billions in oil revenue. The government’s media dominance drowned out the opposition. Politicians who appeared formidable were simply banned from running for office. And the ruling party became expert in using fear and selective intimidation to tamp down the vote. Chávez took a populist message and married it to an autocratic scheme that allowed him to consolidate power. The net effect over Chávez’s years was a paradoxical one: With each election Venezuela lost more of its democracy.

He doesn’t even mention the rules by which Venezuelan television stations were required to carry government propaganda, including hours of Chavez speeches, or risk being shut down.

To which, so far as I can tell, the supporters of Chavez rejoinder thusly: the poor loved him. And he had a rolling, sonorous voice.  Plus all the right enemies, of course; how could we help but love someone who claimed that George W. Bush was literally, physically, Satan?  Strange that this story seems to pop up so often; I haven’t noticed so much love on the left for anyone else who claims that the devil is literally, physically walking the earth right now.

I’ll leave it at that, because I’m not prepared to carry on a debate right now as to whether it’s okay to crush potential political rivals and effectively take over the media for use as a propaganda organ of the state.  If you think it is okay to do these things as long as you do them in the name of the poor, well, we’re not going to convince each other, that’s all. 

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