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May 24, 2007

Some Choice

Kevin Grier writes:

Don't get me wrong here, I'm NOT endorsing Hugo. Do I think that Chavez and his policies are going to serve the long term economic interests of Venezuela? NO. Do I think Chavez is a charming guy? NO. Would I be sad if Chavez lost power? NO. If George Bush and Chavez were in a burning building and I could only save one would it be Chavez? NO.

Now look: I'm neither particularly enamored nor distressed over Chavez. I think he should probably be channeling more oil revenues into infrastructure development and the diversification of the Venezuelan economy, but, as Kevin points out, "Venezuela has relatively high levels of income inequality (a gini coefficient in 2000 of around .44 compared to .36 for the US according to the UN) from a relatively low base and was run by a corrupt elite class who swallowed up oil wealth while the economic standing of the country plummeted," so I don't cry too many tears for the country's elite.

To get back to the burning building, though: Size matters. Say what you will about Chavez, but the worst he's doing is harming a small country's economy. Bush is playing on a larger field. Given the scale, if Bush is even a tenth as malign as Chavez -- and I'd argue he's quite a bit worse than that -- the impact of his actions, thanks to the size and power of the country he helms, far overwhelms anything Chavez can lay claim to.

There's a conceptual flaw in our tendency to compare various world leaders based on their actions as individuals rather than how their personal qualities interact with their country's capabilities. Put it this way: A heavily armed bodybuilder with occasional rage blackouts is quite a bit more worrisome than a sociopathic six-year-old who can do little more than pick the wings off flies. The kid may be nastier, but the muscleman is considerably more dangerous. And, similarly, there are plenty of world leaders who'd prove more unsettling after a psychological evaluation than Bush. But none are near as dangerous.

May 24, 2007 | Permalink

Comments

Yeah, but what does failing to save Bush get us? 18 months of president Cheney? I suppose that would do slightly more long term damage to the Republican brand, but still...

Posted by: djw | May 24, 2007 9:38:33 PM

I think you're misreading Grier. Unless I missed something, nowhere does he say that he would save Bush, either.

Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | May 24, 2007 10:22:59 PM

If George Bush and Chavez were in a burning building and I could only save one would it be Chavez? NO

I wouldn't piss on either of their legs if they were on fire.

And as of today, I'll go ahead and add the damn-fool Reid and Pelosi to that list.

I'm tired of politicians.

Posted by: Stephen | May 24, 2007 10:42:32 PM

Say what you will about Chavez, but the worst he's doing is harming a small country's economy. Bush is playing on a larger field. Given the scale, if Bush is even a tenth as malign as Chavez -- and I'd argue he's quite a bit worse than that -- the impact of his actions, thanks to the size and power of the country he helms, far overwhelms anything Chavez can lay claim to.

You're wrong, Ezra. Chavez is a megalomaniacal man obsessed with his own grandeza. He is not content to limit homself to Venezuela, he wants to transform Latin America while sticking his finger in the Yanqui's eye (witness his cuddling up to Ahmadinejad) and has the means to do so - as long as oil prices remain high.

The saving grace here is that some of his natural allies (Lula and Kirchner) are growing tired of him. Kirchner was upset about his cozying up to Iran, especially as Argentina suspects Iranian involvement with the AMIA and Israeli Embassy bombings. Lula was upset by his enthusiastic support for Morales' nationalization of the hydrocarbons in Bolivia as Petrobras (owned by Brazil) was the biggest investor in Bolivian natural gas.

He's also pissed off the Chileans by inserting himself into the dispute over Bolivia's claims to a portion of the Cilean coastline which they lost in the War of the Pacific.

He'll eventually wear out his welcome.

Posted by: Randy Paul | May 24, 2007 10:44:24 PM

Stephen! The Thinkery must be infected with foul humours.

Yeah, the Congressional Dems are wimps, but only a majority of the time, not all. Consider the alternatives (Boehner, McConnell)....

Chavez is not even minor league. The Cheney Cabal will get him before he's out of office, given some spare time from setting the rest of the world on fire.

Now if both Bush and Cheney were in the same burning building, it might be worth considering interfering with the fire hoses or something. (looks around for an axe)

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | May 24, 2007 11:13:12 PM

Yeah, Randy, but those are things Chavez is TRYING to do, and not actually doing, because essentially, he doesn't have the power to do them. The fact that he wants to transform Latin America doesn't makes him much more dangerous if (as it is) he lacks the ability to do it. All he is really doing right now is (maybe) hurting Venezuela long term economic prospects. On the other side, Bush is personally responsible for the death of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians. Quite different don't you think?

Posted by: Carlos | May 24, 2007 11:24:34 PM

"If George Bush and Chavez were in a burning building and I could only save one would it be Chavez? NO."

I'd save Chavez over Bush.

Posted by: Petey | May 25, 2007 12:16:21 AM

To get back to the burning building, though: Size matters.

When you said this, I thought you were going to go into an analysis of which one would be easier to carry out of the building. Because Bush definitely has a size advantage there.

On the other hand, Bush doesn't like timetables for withdrawal, so he'd probably refuse to go, so, you'd probably have to try to tug him out like you would a stubborn mule. Advantage: Hugo!

Posted by: Royko | May 25, 2007 1:31:05 AM

From openDemocracy, here's a different viewpoint on Chavez.
http://www.opendemocracy.net/democracy-protest/deepening_revolution_4592.jsp

Posted by: mijnheer | May 25, 2007 1:54:50 AM

Isn't it odd that most dictators end up being ruthless thugs. For the life of me, I can't think up one benevolent dictator. Perhaps people here can.

It comes down to the infamous tension between equality and freedom. When a dictator comes into power, it is usually on the curtail of some popular movement and they come ready to "fix" things. As they start to reform, they come across vested interests that resist their reforms. Since the dictator thinks he knows what is best, he starts to cut corners: ban opposition groups, imprison people, executions. To him, the means justify the ends.

Almost every country with a strong statist government ends up falling into this trap. It is why well-intended pro-labor communist countries like North Korea, Cuba, and the USSR all fell into tyranny.

Whereas the United States, for all its failings under this Administration, still emphasizes freedom and limited government.

Of course it isn't guaranteed that Chavez will turn into a tyrannt. But I wouldn't bet against it.

Posted by: Jason | May 25, 2007 4:08:45 AM

Randy Paul and Jason are correct.

The larger danger is Chavez because he *does* wish to transfrom Latin America.....into socialist and communist states. This long term scenario is the more dangerous.
In all of these discussions, those on the left do not wish to take the long term view, either here or in Iraq. They do not wish to consider what will happen after they pull the plug in Iraq and they don't wish to consider the problems of a communist Latin America.

It's myopia till the next election for them.

Posted by: Fred Jones | May 25, 2007 8:16:05 AM

He is not content to limit homself to Venezuela, he wants to transform Latin America

I am not content to limit myself to going out on dates with various local young women. I want to marry Laura Prepon.

Posted by: Tyro | May 25, 2007 9:19:07 AM

> If George Bush and Chavez were in a
> burning building and I could only
> save one would it be Chavez? NO.

Simple experiment: let's have a 2-hour, 1-on-1 debate between Chavez and W Bush. Bush's choice of English or Spanish. No earpieces allowed and the debaters directly address one anothers' points.

On a policy level I don't agree with Chavez, and if he does go the full dictator route that would be very bad (of course if Cheney goes the full dictator route that would be bad too). But let's not exaggerate too far in the other direction either: as politician and citizen of their respective nations Chavez stands about 2m taller than Bush.

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer | May 25, 2007 10:48:47 AM

I don't think that there is the risk of Latin America becoming communist, but there are particular issues that come up where I believe Chavez sets a very bad example. On the subject of freedom of expression, I believe that his treatment of the RCTV matter is dangerously wrong. I believe that his being given th power of ruling by decree is, in fact, dictatorial. I believe that his emphasis on military spending sets an ugly precedent when Latin America should be spending more on bsaic infrastructure and less on the military.

I find his cozying up to the likes of Ahmadinejad, Qaddafi and Lukashenko to be very disturbing. Despite his bombastic tone, he won't stop selling oil to the US. The costs are cheaper than to many other locations and the infrastructure to turn the sour Venezuelan oil is in place. He needs the money for his spending.

If Bush and Chavez were in a burning building, I would go in and look for dogs, cats, fish, birds, reptiles and insects to save.

Posted by: Randy Paul | May 25, 2007 11:09:22 AM

I don't think that there is the risk of Latin America becoming communist, but there are particular issues that come up where I believe Chavez sets a very bad example. On the subject of freedom of expression, I believe that his treatment of the RCTV matter is dangerously wrong. I believe that his being given th power of ruling by decree is, in fact, dictatorial. I believe that his emphasis on military spending sets an ugly precedent when Latin America should be spending more on bsaic infrastructure and less on the military.

I find his cozying up to the likes of Ahmadinejad, Qaddafi and Lukashenko to be very disturbing. Despite his bombastic tone, he won't stop selling oil to the US. The costs are cheaper than to many other locations and the infrastructure to turn the sour Venezuelan oil is in place. He needs the money for his spending.

If Bush and Chavez were in a burning building, I would go in and look for dogs, cats, fish, birds, reptiles and insects to save.

Posted by: Randy Paul | May 25, 2007 11:12:54 AM

Cranky Observer,

The difference is that we are done with Bush at 12 noon on 1/20/09. Chavez has done everything to ensure his ruling until he doesn't want to.

Posted by: Randy Paul | May 25, 2007 11:17:44 AM

Fred, I think you missed the point of the post. Perhaps Chavez does WISH to transform the whole of Latin America into a Warsaw Pact-ish bloc, but there's little evidence that he has the clout pull it off.

This is a mistake that those onthe right (and neo-cons in particular) constantly make. Look at Iraq. There threat posed by a dictator who WISHES to aquire WMD is is not the same as the threat posed by one who HAS THE MEANS to aquire WMD.

As far as the left not being willing to look down the road, I think that there is a case to be made that sometimes the Democratic leadership in particular can be pretty short sighted (see this post by Matt), but I think that the consequences of leaving Iraq is a bad example. Trust me, no one on the left expects that once we leave Iraq we'll have theme parks and flowers. It'll be bad. Lots of people will die. But the question is whether our being there is a net positive over the long term. And I think liberals have looked at the long term and faced the reality that, as bad an option as leaving is, staying is much worse. Both for those whose country we threw into chaos and for the lives of those in the US (soldiers in harms way, hundreds of thousands of new potential terrorists, hundreds of billions of dollars thrown away, decreased standing in the world... this list goes on and gets worse every day).

Posted by: mac | May 25, 2007 11:30:47 AM

"If Bush and Chavez were in a burning building, I would go in and look for dogs, cats, fish, birds, reptiles and insects to save."

Randy, thank you for reminding me of my favorite scene in Pee-Wee's Big Adventure.

Posted by: Hob | May 25, 2007 2:16:26 PM

Jesus Christ, so many stupid comments about Chavez.

Personally, I would run in to the burning building, pull out Chavez, give him a nice cold beer and some lotion for his burns, then run back in and give Bush a kick in the balls.

Posted by: Davis | May 26, 2007 12:39:22 AM

Davis,

You want to be specific?

Posted by: Randy Paul | May 26, 2007 5:35:53 PM

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Posted by: Zmajrvj | Oct 26, 2007 1:01:38 AM

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