Thursday, March 7, 2013

Was Chavez Satan Or Merely A Lesser Demon?

The two main newspapers in the Soviet Union were Pravda and Isvestia. Pravda means truth, and Isvetia means news. This led to a clever play on words: There is no truth in news, and there is no news in truth. I was assured by several Russians that nobody ever believed Soviet propaganda. They knew they were being lied to about everything. My response was always the same, “I’m not so sure that’s always the case in America.”

But then we have better propaganda.  It doesn’t hammer you with turgid dogma. It smuggles its biases in more subtly so that the average reader might not notice.  For example, if you’re commuting to work on the subway and just glance through the New York Times, you might not catch on that entire articles about US foreign policy are often based exclusively on official government sources: Pentagon sources say; State Department sources say; According to White House officials …  They also quote smart sounding people from smart sounding think tanks that no one outside of the Beltway ever heard of, but who probably play golf with your representative every week. They use bland and even-handed language, which everyone knows is how serious and objective people talk.

It works like magic, particularly with regard to foreign affairs. Your average American, even your relatively well-informed one, rarely develops any genuine understanding of the world. Instead, they come away with hazy and simplistic impressions, and these more or less correspond with official US attitudes. Old Europe is socialistic and effeminate; entitlements are bankrupting them. Scrappy little Israel is always right, the medieval Arabs are always wrong, and they treat women badly; they need us to lead them to democracy. There is nothing from the Rio Grande to Tierra del Fuego but one big coke-ridden Mexico. The Russians are still closet commies. Cutting the defense budget will weaken America. Sooner or later, we have to bomb Iran. Invading Iraq was a well-intentioned mistake, but the world is a better place without Saddam Hussein. Then it’s off to the voting both to fulfill your civic duty.

This kind of comic book thinking is most obvious when we appraise foreign leaders, who fall into three categories: good, bad, and French. David Cameron, being the British Prime Minister, is good. So was Tony Blair. Hell, Margaret Thatcher and Winston Churchill were practically American. (Winston Churchill’s mother actually was). Mahmoud can’t-ever-get-his-last-name-right is bad. He wants to wipe Israel off the map. Natanyahu is kind of an asshole, but a good asshole. He’s a tough patriot who is willing to call it like it is and make tough decisions, you know, like Harry Truman was.  Castro is Satan, and so too was his protégé, Hugo Chavez, who we’re told is now burning in hell. Any foreign leader who takes an independent line but isn’t obviously a baddie is French. The UN Secretary General usually falls into this category.

This is precisely the level of sophistication that your average American brings to the table when contemplating war and peace, and it’s not an accident. We are only allowed two possible responses to any international crisis: cower under our beds or go marching boldly off to war. In order to ensure these reactions, the world has to be drawn in stark black and white terms. The fact that this kind of thinking has always been a part of our national character just helps matters along.

This process has been on full display since Hugo Chavez died. The Acceptable Opinion Machine has gone into overdrive to make sure that Mr. and Mrs. America come away with the Right Impression. The cruder right-wing outlets, preaching to the choir, as it were, tell you outright that Chavez was the devil, worse than Stalin even, and he’s burning in hell. But that’s a given. More insidious is the bias in the mainstream press. I found this gem today: “Despite oil donations, offers of Katrina aid, Chavez never caught on as savior of poor in US.”
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez offered to send thousands of soldiers, firefighters and volunteers to help with the cleanup. He also pledged $1 million in aid plus fuel to help rebuild hard-hit cities like New Orleans.

The offer, swiftly rejected, was part of a larger pattern: Chavez’s repeated attempts to provide humanitarian relief to low-income and distressed U.S. families. Despite those efforts, he was never able to foster his image as a savior of the American poor like he did in Venezuela. More often, he was accused of orchestrating politically motivated ploys that in the end helped relatively few Americans.
It’s possible that Chavez never caught on as a savior of the US poor because his offers were “swiftly rejected.” Who swiftly rejected them, and why? No answer. Instead, we’re left with the impression that, you know, we Americans just don’t go for that commie stuff.

And who accused him of “orchestrating politically motivated ploys”? And why should that matter? The victims of Katrina wouldn’t have cared why Chavez was helping them, they would have just been happy that he was doing it (this is precisely why the aid offers were “swiftly rejected,” of course.) The Marshall Plan was a politically motivated ploy designed to undermine the appeal of communism in war-torn western Europe. Does that make it a bad thing? Motivations don’t really matter; actions do. But that introduces gray into our black and white worldview, so it has to be left out.

A think tanker then puts it all into perspective for us:
“Many people questioned his motivation,” said Eric Farnsworth, vice president of the Council of the Americas and Americas Society think tank. “Was this a true humanitarian gesture or was it an opportunity to stick it in the eye of the United States? I think many people in the U.S. thought it was the latter.”
Many people might be curious about what the hell the Council of the Americas and Americas Society think tank is. I’m not exactly sure, but if you got to their web site you’ll learn they are a group of opinion leaders who, surprise surprise, favor opne markets. How original. So many opinion leaders, so few opinions. If you click the link that says “COA Corporate Members,” you’ll see a glittering cavalcade of well-meaning individuals whose motivations are always pure: AIG, Archer Daniels Midland, Bank of America, Cargill, Chevron, Coca-Cola, etc.  Is this a really a group of humanitarian opinion leaders who want to help Latin America, or a front group for corporations who want to stick it in the rear of the Venezuelan people? Many of us think the latter. It would have been helpful if our intrepid reporters mentioned this not insignificant detail, but they clearly had bigger fish to fry:
While much of Chavez’s socialist vision would have been in line with that of many American liberals, he never gained widespread admiration in the U.S.

Hollywood actor Sean Penn and director Oliver Stone praised him, but they were the exception, and many were hesitant to embrace a leader with military roots who shut down media outlets and abolished term limits.
Everybody knows liberals don’t mind leaders with military roots who shut down media outlets, especially Hollywood elites like Sean Penn and Oliver Stone. Apparently, conservatives have always abhorred military dictatorships in Latin America. Let me remind you that this is not World Net Daily or Fox News. It’s from the Associated Press.

That’s how propaganda is done. The ground is being prepared to bring democracy, USA INC. style, to Venezuela. One bright shiny morning, free market principles will be restored, and the peasants, liberated from the tyranny of free healthcare and education, can get right with God again.

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