Remember that radical socialist you always hear conservatives complaining about in the news? That tyrannical despot hell-bent on political reform and the redistribution of wealth amongst the masses?
He died on Tuesday in Caracas, Venezuela.
Hugo Chavez was 58 and suffered greatly during his long battle with cancer. His death cut short the fourth term of his presidency, leaving the historically tumultuous South American nation under an ominous cloud of uncertainty. Yet, while the future for Venezuela remains unclear, the legacy of its deceased leader is already being celebrated — and condemned — worldwide.
Chavez was elected president of Venezuela in 1998, just six years after staging an unsuccessful coup against the presiding government. In keeping with his revolutionary roots, Chavez proceeded to enact some of the most radical social and political reforms in his nation’s history.
Revising the nation’s constitution via a public referendum, he curtailed the legislature by passing laws directly. He imposed stringent regulations on businesses and tampered with economic variables. He was a hard-line socialist who championed the poor and eliminated much of the nation’s private sector competition.
Wait a minute …
During the course of his presidency, he facilitated a tight consolidation of executive power. He enacted a number of socialist policies, including funding for the nation’s public healthcare system. He practiced censorship and held a favorable bias in the national media. He was arrogant, brash and unapologetic.
Whoa, whoa, whoa — hang on a second. Haven’t we heard this all before? Isn’t this all exactly the way the far right describes our nation’s 44th president?
In fact, the deeper I dig through the growing mountain of Chavez editorials, combing through his political history and the records of his public policy, the less I’m able to distinguish between the charismatic South American dictator and the man so many of this nation’s conservatives believe our president to be.
Maybe I’m going mad, but the likeness seems too uncanny. Tyrant? Check. Socialist? Check. Not born in the U.S.? Check. It’s impossible to talk about one without thinking about the other.
Then again, I’ve never actually seen the Barack Obama people like former Congressman Joe Walsh and pundit Bill O’Reilly claim to have seen. Their reports of a renegade president on a runaway executive power trip are as mysterious and dubious to me as reports of a sasquatch terrorizing transients in the Rockies. I’ve gone looking for him, just like those guys on Animal Planet, but all I ever turn up is a half-Kenyan democrat with big ears and a handsome smile.
No tyrant, despot or demagogue. No conniving politician with an Orwellian agenda for social reconstruction. Those o the right might shudder to hear it, but I actually kind of like that guy in the Oval Office. Which begs the looming and imminent question: How can we be looking at the same guy?
Well, maybe we aren’t. Maybe the men who share so much in common — executive supremacy, fiscal impudence, an iron-fisted socialist agenda — are actually one and the same. Like the end of a good Agatha Christie novel, I think I’ve finally pinned down the culprit:
The man conservatives thought was Barack Obama was actually Hugo Chavez.
Ridiculous, you say? Impossible? I share in at least some part of your doubt. But what other explanation solves the mystery? How else can you account for the purported existence of a presidential power-monger with complete disregard for the separation of powers — something so clearly nonexistent in our society?
There is one other explanation. It’s possible that conservatives are simply so far off the mark that they’ve succeeded in creating a fictional archetype that, while completely unfounded in our democratic society, coincides with certain preexisting third-world demagogues. It’s possible that, motivated by racism and the primal fear of heterogeneity, right-wing politicians have blatantly lied about the severity of the President’s policies and his “abuse” of executive power. It’s possible, I suppose, that Republicans who call the President a “tyrant” for his stance on gun control or a “socialist” for his position on health care are drastically out of touch with reality and certifiably full of shit.
Possible, but highly unlikely. What’s far more likely is that this was all just one big misunderstanding. Hugo Chavez was the accidental scapegoat for our nation’s social and economic woes. That villainous version of Barack Obama decried daily on Fox News was actually real — in a developing nation south of the Caribbean. It’s an embarrassing mistake, but what can we say? It’s not the first time a group of old, angry white men have confused two men of color.
Now that Chavez is dead, it stands to reason that the confusion will also end. I look forward to the right’s acknowledgement of their mistake, and the new era of moderate and reasonable discourse this momentous event will usher in.
Hey … What? Why’s everybody so quiet?
Mark Strong’s name is popping up on government lists everywhere.
Views expressed on the Opinion page do not necessarily reflect those of the Daily Nexus or UCSB. Opinions are submitted primarily by students.
A version of this article appeared on page 12 of the March 7, 2013 print edition of the Daily Nexus.