Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Chavez's Useful Idiots

Writing for Slate, Anne Applebaum rightly excoriates the privileged celebrities like Naomi Campbell who have chosen to prostrate themselves before Venezuela's aspiring tyrant Hugo Chavez:

Exhibit A is, of course, Campbell. Though better known for her taste in shoes than her opinions about Latin American economics, she nevertheless pitched up in Caracas last week, gushing about the "love and encouragement" President Chávez pours into his welfare programs. Wearing what a Venezuelan newspaper called "a revolutionary and exquisite white dress from the prestigious Fendi fashion house," she praised the country for its "large waterfalls." Of course, Campbell did not mention the anti-Chávez demonstrations held in Caracas the week before her visit, proposed constitutional changes designed to let Chávez remain in power indefinitely, or Chávez's record of harassing opposition leaders or the media.

But then, that wasn't the point of her visit, just as it wasn't when actor Sean Penn, a self-conscious "radical" and avowed enemy of the American president, spent a whole day with President Chávez. Together, the two of them toured the countryside. "I came here looking for a great country. I found a great country," Penn declared. But of course he found a great country! Penn wanted a country where he would win adulation for his views about U.S. politics, and the Venezuelan president happily provided it.

In fact, for the malcontents of Hollywood, academia, and the catwalks, Chávez is an ideal ally. Just as the sympathetic foreigners whom Lenin called "useful idiots" once supported Russia abroad, their modern equivalents provide the Venezuelan president with legitimacy, attention, and good photographs. He, in turn, helps them overcome the frustration John Reed once felt—the frustration of living in an annoyingly unrevolutionary country where people have to change things by law. For all his brilliance, Reed could not bring socialism to America. For all his wealth, fame, media access, and Hollywood power, Sean Penn cannot oust George W. Bush. But by showing up in the company of Chávez, he can at least get a lot more attention for his opinions.

Sean Penn has implied that George W. Bush is bringing fascism to America. How pathetic is it that he embraces a ruler who really is implementing something akin to fascism?


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