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The Ludicrous Nature of Politics

One of the virtues of non-partisanship is that you don’t have to despise the other guy’s team and you don’t have to always stand up for your own guy. That let’s you avoid some pretty foolish maneuvering.

The shortcomings of partisanship and the ludicrous nature of politics were on display at the UN when Chavez called Bush the devil. I’m not crazy about George Bush, but the devil? The great thing about the devil is that he’s actually worse than Hitler. But where do you go from there? What if Bush does something worse? And what do you call Hitler if Bush is the devil?  Ah, language is so blunt.

Chavez is a clown performing in the circus. But unfortunately, he’s a clown with power and like all such evil clowns, he’s always eager to find a devil to deflect criticism of his own failings, one of the great strategies of politicians.

Here’s another clown at the UN using the old misdirection ploy. Reuters reports:

Callous wealthy nations are
indifferent to the plight of the poor as they pursue selfish
policies which enrich the few at the expense of the many, South
African President Thabo Mbeki said on Tuesday."These billions of poor people are increasingly becoming
impatient because every year they hear us adopt declaration
after declaration and yet nothing practical is done to assuage
the hunger pains that keep them awake at night," he told the United Nations General Assembly.

His analysis:

But Mbeki said poverty was increasing "during an era of
unprecedented wealth accumulation and technological advances"
and pointed the finger at rich nations, who he said insisted on
an unequal relationship with the poor.

"The majority of the human race is entitled to ask the
question whether the rich are responding the way they do
because the further impoverishment of the poor is to the
advantage of the rich," he said.

I don’t know much about Mbeki, but I’ve heard a little bit about South Africa, recently. Friends were visiting there and found themselves car-jacked. The thief demanded the woman’s diamond ring. She could not remove it so the thief tried to bite her finger off. He was unsuccessful, but because of the risk of AIDS, my friend had to get some shots. Here’s hoping that works. I’m sure those thieves were forced to do what they did because of rich Americans who’ve impoverished them. Or maybe, just maybe, Mr. Mbeki is not doing the best job runnig his own country.

I don’t know what’s sadder. That Mbeki has an allegedly legitimate forum to air his "theories" of global poverty or that the media treats it like an interesting theory that is newsworthy.

Meanwhile, the Chavez speech has engendered an interesting response from some American politicians. Tom Harkin thinks Chavez is onto something:

Senator Tom Harkin, a democrat, today defended Venezuelan President
Hugo Chavez’s United Nations speech in which Chavez called President
George Bush the devil. Harkin said the comments were "incendiary", then
went on to say, "Let me put it this way, I can understand the
frustration, ah, and the anger of certain people around the world
because of George Bush’s policies." Harkin continued what has been
frequent criticism of the president’s foreign policy.

says Bush came to office saying he wanted a new humility in foreign
policy in reaching out to other countries, but Harkin says Bush’s
actual policy has been heavy handed. Harkin says the anger against Bush
is generated from the Iraq war, which Harkin says was "unnecessary."

says, "We tend to forget that a few days after 9-1-1 thousands,
thousands of Iranians marched in a candlelight procession in Teheran in
support of the United States. Every Muslim country was basically on our
side. Just think, in five years, President Bush has squandered all
that." Harkin says the U.S. has put billions of dollars into the Iraq
war, when it could be helping poor countries with things like clean
water, medical aid and education.

Harkin is defending an astute observer of world affairs.

But the more interesting response came from Charles Rangel. His official statement:

I want to express my extreme displeasure with statements by the
President of Venezuela attacking U.S. President George Bush in such a
personal and disparaging way during his remarks at the United Nations
General Assembly.

It  should be clear to all heads of government that criticism of
Bush Administration policies, either domestic or foreign, does not
entitle them to attack the President personally.

George Bush is the President of the United States and represents the
entire country. Any demeaning public attack against him is viewed by
Republicans and Democrats, and all Americans, as an attack on all of us.

I feel that I must speak out now since the Venezuelan government has
been instrumental in providing oil at discounted prices to people in
low income communities who have suffered increases in rent as heating
oil prices have risen sharply.  By offering this benefit to people in
need, Venezuela has won many friends in poor communities of New York
and other states.  I am surprised that American oil companies have not
stepped up to provide that kind of assistance to the poor.

Venezuela’s generosity to the poor, however, should not be
interpreted as license to attack President Bush.  Those who take issue
with Bush Administration policies have no right to attack him
personally.  It was not helpful when President Bush referred to certain
nations as an "axis of evil."  Neither is it helpful for a head of
state to use the sacred halls of the United Nations to insult President

Isn’t this delicious? Chavez offers American politicians what is effectively a bribe to co-opt them. When the heating oil was flowing, it was a good photo op. Now, it’s a bit awkward.

It is always good to remember that when a politician speaks it does not have any relationship to what he or she actually thinks. We have such a romance about politics that we often assume that politicians have principles or values. Some do, no doubt. The best ones are the ones who actually believe what they say. But most of them are just saying what people want to hear or what serves their own hold on power. Why is that so hard to remember?