December 3, 2007


Hugo Chavez, the President of Venezuela, has narrowly lost the constitutional referendum that would have established him potentially as President for life, given him powers to appoint deputies to run local governments, and also institute such measures as a six-hour day.

Chavez is frequently viewed by hostile commentators as a "fascist," a potential dictator, and a threat to the US, which he spares no occasions to lambaste, using the US as a foil for his lengthy TV monologues.

What sort of dictator, one might ask, subjects himself to an electoral test, and acknowledges defeat in a popular election?

In fact, Chavez is neither some kind of honorary Bolshevik, as certain soi-disant Marxist acolytes claim, nor a fascist, if that term is to mean anything other than "a politician I dislike." He is rather a combination of two Latin American archetypes--the populist caudillo and the autodidact (self-educated) egomaniac. Far from having a coherent political philosophy or program, these types improvise, throwing sops, emotional and financial, to the masses of the poor, while concentrating their own power and spinning out their interminable egomaniacal rants.

Many of the Chavez-haters in America, of course, are democratists, who think of that benighted system as the supreme political good. Why Chavez's use of the populist-democratic initiative or plebiscite makes him a fascist, but the waving of purple fingers in Iraq turned that benighted land into a democracy is a question these folks won't answer.

The fact is that Chavez is a classic democratic type, much like the unfortunate Roosevelt or the archetypal Huey Long. When there is a mass of poor people or even not-so-poor people with a dependent outlook, tax and tax and tax, spend and spend and spend, elect and elect and elect is a classic and effective strategy. It makes for waste, debt and the undermining of national character, but never mind. It's democracy.

For the moment, the Infeliz overreached, Venezuela balked, and rather than cheat, he took a step back.

Go figure.

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