Guess How Much I Love You

We live in a country where, depending on which party is in control of the White House, some not insignificant portion of the population thinks it’s okay for the president to have the power to order extrajudicial killings simply because…they trust him. They like him. They can imagine having a beer with him. They like his wife. Her bangs. Their daughters. Or any one of a number of possible reasons of the republic.

And yet, writes Alma Guillermoprieto in the New York Review of Books, it is the Venezuelan people who are children, in thrall to a regressive fantasy of their dearly departed leader.

Perhaps in trying to evaluate the astonishing rule of Hugo Chávez the question to ask is this: whether the people he leaves behind regressed into a kind of childhood faith and dependency under his spell and what the price of such regression might be. Perhaps this is the state brought forth by those rulers we call caudillos—willful chieftans who rule by force of personality—of which Hugo Chávez Frías may have been the greatest of all. “There is no chavismo without Chavez,” he proclaimed repeatedly. Who now will dry Venezuela’s tears?

Update (March 18, 4:30 pm)

On the accession of Pope Francis, NPR’s Melissa Block interviewed John Connaughton, a 37-year-old American seminarian in Rome. Here’s what he had to say:

JOHN CONNAUGHTON: It was an amazing experience because in that time period between Pope Benedict’s resignation and the election of Francis I, you could feel the absence of the Holy Father.

BLOCK: What does that feel like from your perspective?

CONNAUGHTON: Well, we call him the Holy Father because he is our father. He’s our spiritual father. And just like when your father goes away for a trip, you feel his absence. So you could feel it. You could feel it spiritually, and there’s a great sense of relief and joy when we did receive Francis I.

Eagerly awaiting Guillermoprieto’s thoughts on how Catholics are receiving this newest strongman from Latin America.

And as Laura Tanenbaum reminded me on FB over this past weekend: “While doing course prep this week I kept thinking: I hope these people never get ahold of Whitman writing about Lincoln. Father, captain, him I love, martyr, and that’s just the half of it.” Indeed.


  1. Joanna Bujes March 7, 2013 at 10:53 pm | #

    Well, given that he’s won re-election thirteen times in what ex pres Carter deemed the fairest elections in the Americas, it’s hard to call him a dictator. So the only thing to do is to argue that the Venezuelan people were hypnotized into voting for him. QED.

    • sj660 (@sj660) March 7, 2013 at 11:31 pm | #

      Depends on how you define it. He certainly had certain abilities to rule by decree, elected or not.

  2. troy grant March 7, 2013 at 10:59 pm | #

    The 1% has the megaphone. The rest of us don’t exist.

  3. sj660 (@sj660) March 7, 2013 at 11:31 pm | #

    You really think the cult of personality in Obama and Bush is/was of a similar magnitude, and you (apparently) really think that the feelings about drones are as unnuanced as “we like him so he can kill anyone he wants?”

    • Sam Holloway March 9, 2013 at 6:18 pm | #

      These questions are loaded and pointed at Straw Men. To your credit, sj, they are decently constructed Straw Men worthy of discussion.

      The first half of your question raises an interesting point in a somewhat oblique manner. It assumes that the majorities who’ve consistently supported Hugo Chávez and his allies in the National Assembly are fools and dupes whose primary motivation, en masse, is something less tangible than self-interest and shared, specific visions of Venezuelan nationalism. Discounting the political agency of the Venezuelan populace is inescapably implied by all such obtuse criticism of Chávez. He could only be a ‘caudillo,’ a ‘strongman,’ and autocrat, or a dictator if the majorities who consistently elected him in independently certified free and fair elections were somehow quantifiably and demonstrably voting against their own interests. Thus Chávez’s supporters are infantilized so that Chávez can be characterized as their nefarious national daddy.
      The flip side of this, briefly put, is that the heavily marketed personalities of Bush and Obama need not be characterized as having the hypnotic patriarchal power granted so hyperbolically to Hugo Chávez. It is sufficient to suggest that they are paper-thin, pastel wrapping on our collective self-image; they are cheap and slickly produced avatars for the self-centered deities of our national religion, American exceptionalism. (i.e., ‘We are Americans, and are therefore better than others, and the actions of our chosen leaders the very least rise above the broad and clumsy strokes with which we may criticize the leaders of lesser peoples.’)
      In short, this dichotomy allows us to avoid qualitative discussion of Chávez’s policies, especially vis à vis our own. (How convenient, too: there were no invasions of Vietnam or Iraq under Chávez, and I challenge someone to produce even a Venezuelan Bradley Manning.)

      To answer the second half of your question, sj, “Yes.”
      ‘Feelings’ about drone strikes are largely irrelevant here. The strikes are morally reprehensible in principle as was the unilateral invasion and decimation of Iraq and the numerous instances of kidnapping and torture instigated by the Bush administration. One may rationalize Obama’s systematic slaughter of innocents; but the dead are still dead, and the policies that kill them are continually being expanded and legitimized. Each of us is free to sprinkle her own nuance over the growing pile of scorched, dismembered, and eviscerated gore, but the only relevant question is one of support: do you, or don’t you?

    • Steve S. March 9, 2013 at 8:40 pm | #

      “You really think the cult of personality in Obama and Bush is/was of a similar magnitude”

      Oh, good lord no. The cult of personality surrounding U.S. Presidents is obviously many orders of magnitude greater in terms of number of people affected, ability to project violence to any corner of the world, and any other measure of consequence.

  4. Eric Whitney March 8, 2013 at 9:23 am | #

    In Death as in Life, the American propaganda machine is turned up to eleven against Hugo Chávez.
    He was truly great man and a better leader than George Bush or Barack Obama.
    Boy, they hated him for that.

  5. Phil Perspective March 8, 2013 at 1:14 pm | #

    What’s funny, in a black humor sort of way, is that Alma Guillermoprieto was one of the writers who first reported on Salvadoran death squads which Ray-gun poo-poo’d. And then later she became an establishmentarian. Sounds like her establishmentarian hat is one for the above references writing.

    • Mitchell Freedman March 9, 2013 at 1:42 pm | #

      Yes, I remember Guillermoprieto well from the early 1980s. I was astonished in reading her take on Chavez in the NYRB. She is obviously currying favor with the elite foreign policy opinion in the US.

  6. Administrator March 10, 2013 at 11:30 pm | #

    Reblogged this on San Diego Democratic Clubs .

Leave a Reply