The Spectacle Blog

The Democrats and Chavez

By on 9.21.06 | 5:05PM

Nancy Pelosi deserves credit for her strong condemnation of Hugo Chavez:

"Hugo Chavez fancies himself a modern day Simon Bolivar but all he is an everyday thug," House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said at a news conference, referring to Chavez' comments in a U.N. General Assembly speech on Wednesday.

"Hugo Chavez abused the privilege that he had, speaking at the United Nations," said Pelosi, a frequent Bush critic. "He demeaned himself and he demeaned Venezuela."

Amen. Even if Pelosi is saying this only for political reasons (it's a rare opportunity to tack right on foreign policy without offending a significant portion of the Democratic base), it's still a very good thing that she said it. When the world sees headlines like "Leading Bush critic at home calls Chavez a 'thug'" it's a very healthy thing.

I wish I could offer the same praise to Charlie Rangel, but I can't shake the feeling that there's something a little off in his condemnation of Chavez. His press release says that "demeaning public attack against him is viewed by Republicans and Democrats, and all Americans, as an attack on all of us." That's pretty obviously not true, isn't it? And look at what he said at his press conference (video):

I just want to make it abundantly clear to Hugo Chavez or any other president, do not come to the United States and think because we have problems with our president that any foreigner can come to our country and not think that Americans do not feel offended when you offend our Chief of State.
The garbled syntax makes it hard to tell, but it sounds as if Rangel is not only making the perfectly cogent point that what may be fair comment by some excited blogger is inappropriate coming from a visiting head of government, but actually going further and saying that the offensiveness of a criticism turns on the critic's nationality. If that's what he means, it's just crude nativism; the implication is that what's okay for Rangel to say is not okay for a non-citizen like (for example) Andrew Sullivan to say. That strikes me as a non-patriot's bad impression of patriotism.
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