WEINSTEIN: Hugo’s Hagiographers

Jamie Weinstein Senior Writer
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Hugo Chavez was an aspiring dictator who clamped down on civil liberties in Venezuela, spouted anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism, and grossly mismanaged his country — but such a record didn’t stop some liberals in America and abroad from mourning the demagogue’s death from a heart attack Tuesday.

From the world of politics, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter mourned Chavez’s death in a statement, and British Member of Parliament George Galloway, who was last seen storming out of a debate in horror when he discovered he was talking to an Israeli, tweeted his condolences.

Farewell Comandante Hugo Chavez champion of the poor the oppressed everywhere. Modern day Spartacus. Rest in Peace.

— George Galloway (@georgegalloway) March 5, 2013

The Nation magazine’s Greg Grandin perhaps outdid all of the Chavez eulogies with his fawning obituary.

Speaking of the media’s reaction to Chavez’s clownish 2006 speech at the United Nations, in which the Venezuelan leader called President George W. Bush “the devil,” Grandin wrote that what really bothered American elites was that Chavez was claiming a right American opinion makers and leaders reserved for themselves.

“I think what really rankled was that Chávez was claiming a privilege that had long belonged to the US, that is, the right to paint its adversaries not as rational actors but as existential evil,” he wrote.

Saying that he is “what they call a useful idiot when it comes to Hugo Chávez,” Grandin went on to dismissively compare the worldview of Chavez’s opponents to that of Mitt Romney.

“Chávez’s detractors see this mobilized sector of the population much the way Mitt Romney saw 47 percent of the US electorate, not as citizens but parasites, moochers sucking on the oil-rent teat,” he wrote.

Sure, “Chávez was a strongman,” Grandin admitted. “He packed the courts, hounded the corporate media, legislated by decree and pretty much did away with any effective system of institutional checks or balances.”

But the “biggest problem Venezuela faced during his rule,” he continued, “was not that Chávez was authoritarian but that he wasn’t authoritarian enough.”

“It wasn’t too much control that was the problem but too little,” he wrote.

And anyway, “What political scientists would criticize as a hyper dependency on a strongman, Venezuelan activists understand as mutual reliance, as well as an acute awareness of the limits and shortcomings of this reliance,” he explained earlier in the piece.

America’s pre-eminent faux-documentarian Michael Moore channeled his mourning into a defense of Chavez on Twitter.

You won’t hear much nice about him in the US media in the next few days. So, I thought I’d say a couple things to provide some balance.

— Michael Moore (@MMFlint) March 6, 2013

Moore also tweeted a picture of he and Chavez from the Venice Film Festival in 2009. To the potential dismay of many of Chavez’s supporters, the Venezuela strongman was wearing imperialist garb.

Conspiratorial director and pretend historian Oliver Stone, who released a laudatory documentary of South America’s left-wing leaders in 2009, also headed to Twitter to mourn his lost compadre.

Actor Sean Penn isn’t on Twitter, so he released a statement to the Hollywood Reporter, saying, “Today the people of the United States lost a friend it never knew it had. And poor people around the world lost a champion.”

“I lost a friend I was blessed to have,” he continued.

“Venezuela and its revolution will endure under the proven leadership of Vice President Maduro.”

Penn forgot to mention that the world also lost a great painter. After one of his trips to Venezuela to meet Chavez, Penn marveled in the Huffington Post about Chavez’s artistic ability.

“I hadn’t known that he painted,” he fawned, “and would never have guessed a politician could paint so well. Men of reason are rarely men of romance. As men of religion (as Chavez is) are so rarely men of reason.”

Penn wasn’t just a friend, he was a believer.

Lesser-known writers from left-wing media outlets also spouted praise for Chavez after his passing.

For instance, Peter Hart, “activism director” of the liberal media watchdog Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting, praised Chavez for caring about the poor.

Not all liberal outlets were so uncritical of Chavez in the aftermath of his death, however. To its credit, the liberal news site ThinkProgress published a highly critical piece, entitled “Why Democrats Shouldn’t Eulogize Hugo Chavez.”

The real shame, though, might be that such an article even had to be written.

Correction: This story originally stated that Chavez died of cancer. Reports now say that Chavez died of a heart attack while suffering from cancer. The article has been updated accordingly. 

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