Venezuela had a good run of it for about five minutes there, at least in public-relations terms. When petroleum prices were booming, all it took was a few gallons of heating oil from Hugo Chávez to buy the extravagant praise of House members, with Representative Chaka Fattah (D., Philadelphia) issuing statements praising Venezuela’s state-run oil company “and the Venezuelan people for their benevolence.” Lest anybody feel creeped out by running political errands for a brutal and repressive caudillo, Joseph Kennedy — son of Senator Robert Kennedy — proclaimed that refusing the strongman’s patronage would be “a crime against humanity.” Kennedy was at the time the director of Citizens Energy, which had a contract to help distribute that Venezuelan heating oil — Boss Hugo was a brute, but he understood American politics.
Celebrities came to sit at his feet, with Sean Penn calling him a “champion” of the world’s poor, Oliver Stone celebrating him as “a great hero,” Antonio Banderas citing his seizure of private businesses as a model to be emulated in the rest of the world, Michael Moore praising his use of oil for political purposes, Danny Glover celebrating him as a “champion of democracy.” His successor, Nicolás Maduro, continued in the Chávez vein, and even as basics such as food and toilet paper disappeared the American Left hailed him as a hero, with Jesse Myerson, Rolling Stone’s fashionable uptown communist, calling his economic program “basically terrific.” Some of the more old-fashioned liberals at The New Republic voiced concern about Venezuela’s sham democracy, its unlimited executive authority, political repression, the hunting down of government critics, the stacking of elections and the government’s perpetrating violence inside polling places — but Myerson insisted that Venezuela’s “electoral system’s integrity puts the U.S.’s to abject shame.” Never mind that opposition leaders there are hauled off to military prison after midnight raids.
That is all going down the memory hole. The Obama administration has announced economic sanctions on Venezuela’s rulers and its intelligence agents, citing the “erosion of human-rights guarantees” – erosion, as though this were something new, as though Hugo Chávez hadn’t been a tyrant back when President Obama’s ally Representative Fattah was carrying his political water all over the eastern seaboard. In the New York Times’ account of Venezuela’s woes and Maduro’s misrule, there is no mention at all of the critical role the American Left played in lending legitimacy to Chavismo, of the so-called liberals and progressives who denounced legitimate protests against Maduro’s brutality as nefarious U.S.-backed coup attempts, who remained — and remain — silent on the regime’s censorship, political repression, torture, and economic incompetence. William Neuman of the Times did find an economist — a leftist economist, he assures us — who went so far as to say that certain aspects of the Chávez program “needed to be revised or even discarded to set the nation’s economy on the right track.”
There is never a reckoning for the Left. An entire generation of American intellectuals found itself enraptured by the brutal, repressive, terroristic political apparatus of the Soviet Union — not only journalistic enablers like Walter Duranty of the Times and the various Hollywood reds and Communist party operatives, but the purportedly enlightened liberals at The New Republic, who were consistent apologists for Soviet brutality at home and abroad at the height of Joseph Stalin’s reign of terror. Scores of Americans, some of them in high government office, were working on behalf of one of history’s most murderous and repressive regimes — and the bad guys in that story are, in the popular imagination, the people who worked to expose that conspiracy, rather than the people who worked to advance it.
The sundry Communist regimes coddled and celebrated by the American Left managed to kill something on the order of 100 million people during the 20th century. Consider that a lesson unlearnt: In our own time, the anti-fracking movement does the bidding of ex-KGB boss Vladimir Putin’s regime, and so-called progressives such as Thom Hartmann are quite pleased to work hand-in-glove with a Kremlin-backed propaganda network.
Things will come to a bad end in Venezuela. Sean Penn won’t be there for it, and neither will Chaka Fattah. Perhaps the ghost of Walter Duranty will file a report.
— Kevin D. Williamson is roving correspondent at National Review.