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Hugo Chávez, Tomb Raider

From the Scrapbook

Aug 9, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 44
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The Scrapbook confesses that it takes a certain unhealthy interest in recent accounts of Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chávez’s exhumation of the corpse of Simón Bolivar. No disrespect to the Liberator is intended here, of course; but the details could hardly be invented.

Chávez seems to believe that he is the (literal) reincarnation of Bolivar, and is also convinced that Bolivar did not die of tuberculosis in 1830, as is generally understood, but was murdered—probably, in Chávez’s imagination, by Colombia or the United States. 

To be sure, the fact that Chávez is so attached to the man who won Venezuela’s independence from Spain​—he keeps an empty chair at cabinet meetings in case the Liberator should stop by—is a puzzlement in itself. Hugo Chávez seems to have a kind of obsessive hatred for the United States of America and its system of government; Simón Bolivar was not just a friend and admirer of the U.S. presidents of his day, but regarded himself as a Jeffersonian democrat, and carried a copy of Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations into battle against the Spanish.

But The Scrapbook expects neither logic nor rationality from the man who has appropriated the name and image of South America’s great democratic leader in his quest to transform Venezuela into a socialist dictatorship. Nor does it expect what we might call appropriate mortuary behavior. When Bolivar’s remains were removed from their coffin and teeth and bone fragments were excised for “testing,” Chávez gazed intently at the Liberator’s skeleton, and declared, “Yes, it is me.” Then he inquired of the bones, “Father, is that you, or who are you?” To which Bolivar responded, according to Chávez: “It is me, but I awaken every hundred years when the people awaken.” (Thor Halvorssen, a distant relation of Bolivar’s, tells the story well in the July 25 Washington Post.) 

Readers will be interested to know that Chávez tweeted the proceedings, as Bolivar was moved from his burial place into a new coffin featuring the Chávez government seal, and that Chávez delivered a speech on Vene-zuelan television in which he implored Christ (unsuccessfully, as it turns out) to raise Bolivar from the dead. 

All of which raises an interesting, and ominous, problem. The global village has often harbored national leaders who might be described as mildly eccentric—Prince Sihanouk of Cambodia, Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi—and a few whose eccentricities lapse into malevolence: Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi, Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe. But Hugo Chávez, in The Scrapbook’s considered view, appears to be insane: unstable, delusional, paranoid, violent. This has not prevented him from earning the allegiance of assorted foreign admirers—Sean Penn and Oliver Stone from Hollywood, Amy Goodman of radio’s “Democracy Now!”—but it deepens the misery of the Venezuelan people and surely endangers Vene-zuela’s neighbor, Colombia. Indeed, the Colombian government has recently demonstrated, in categorical detail, that the Chávez regime provides safe haven for thousands of FARC guerrillas, whose narco-terrorism has sought to destabilize Colombia for years.

It’s tempting—in truth, it’s irresistible​—to delight in the lunatic behavior of Hugo Chávez as he carries on his necromance with the late Simón Bolivar. But the comic details of such bizarre behavior mask a deeper, and catastrophic, pathology of misrule and regional peril.

Speaking Ill of the Obituarists

In their obituaries for Daniel Schorr last week, both the New York Times and the Washington Post touched on a disgraceful episode in the late reporter’s career—a dishonest story he concocted for CBS during the 1964 presidential campaign. The obituaries were equally dishonest. Here’s the Times:

Mr. Schorr, while at CBS, reported on the enthusiasm of right-wing Germans for Goldwater as he secured the presidential nomination that year. Mr. Schorr noted that a planned postconvention Goldwater trip mainly involved time at an American military recreation center in Berchtesgaden, site of a favorite Hitler retreat.

And here’s the Post:

Amid the 1964 election, Mr. Schorr enraged Republican presidential nominee Barry Goldwater when he reported that Goldwater had formed an alliance with some right-wing Germans and planned to spend time at one of Adolf Hitler’s retreats.

There’s no hint in either of these accounts that Goldwater’s rage was justifiable: The story was a crock. In a 2001 review in these pages of Schorr’s memoir, Staying Tuned, Andrew Ferguson set the record straight:

“Nowhere in his memoir does Schorr discuss his personal politics, but anyone who has followed his career from CBS to NPR will know that they are the standard-form liberalism of the professional journalist—that tidy little packet of principle and prejudice that gets issued along with the press card. But Schorr’s views had a sharper edge, and unlike his colleagues he was clumsy about disguising them behind the niceties of journalistic convention. His first serious bout of trouble came during the presidential campaign of 1964, when the national press corps was seized by anti-Goldwater hysteria. The contagion was strong enough that Schorr caught it in Germany.

“On the eve of the Republican convention in San Francisco, Schorr was asked to prepare a report on German reaction to Goldwater’s impending nomination. Why German reaction? In the nation’s news rooms, if nowhere else, the relationship seemed obvious: Goldwater means right-wing, right-wing means fascist, fascist means Germany. Schorr did not disappoint. The morning after his report aired, Goldwater’s political enemies placed a transcript under the hotel room door of every delegate in San Francisco. Goldwater denounced CBS at a press conference and barred its reporters from his campaign. Even some executives at the network, notably its founder William Paley, grumbled privately about Schorr’s reporting. (Like many great media honchos—from Henry Luce to Harold Ross to David Sarnoff​—Paley was a Republican who hired only Democrats.)

“What happened? The untutored reader of Staying Tuned can only wonder what the fuss was all about. Schorr’s account here is, to put it kindly, incomplete. When CBS asked him for a story, he writes in his memoir, he learned from his reporting ‘that Goldwater had plans, as yet unannounced, to leave directly after the convention for a vacation in Germany as guest of .  .  . Lt. Gen. William Quinn. They would spend their time mainly at an American army recreation center in Berchtesgaden in the Bavarian Alps. Berchtesgaden was famous as Hitler’s favorite retreat. This, along with the obvious enthusiasm of right-wing Germans for Goldwater, I reported from Munich in my analysis.’

“In his own autobiography, Goldwater gives a fuller account, quoting at length from Schorr’s actual report. Schorr opened the report like so: ‘It looks as though Senator Goldwater, if nominated, will be starting his campaign here in Bavaria, center of Germany’s right wing,’ also known, Schorr added helpfully, as ‘Hitler’s one-time stomping ground.’ Goldwater, he went on, had given an interview to Der Spiegel, ‘appealing to right-wing elements in Germany,’ and had agreed to speak to a conclave of, yes, ‘right-wing Germans.’ ‘Thus,’ Schorr concluded, ‘there are signs that the American and German right wings are joining up.’ Now back to you, Walter, and have a nice day!

“Today Schorr’s story, with its hints of paranoia, seems merely quaint, an almost comical artifact of the era that gave us the Manchurian Candidate and Seven Days in May—except that this was broadcast as a genuine bit of news, in the middle of a real campaign. Though easily checkable, it was false in all its particulars. Goldwater had spoken vaguely of vacationing in Europe but had made no plans to visit Germany, and he hadn’t spoken to Quinn, an old friend, in more than a year. Goldwater’s interview in Der Spiegel was a reprint of an interview that had appeared elsewhere, and he had not even considered addressing the group Schorr mentioned. More important, the story was false in its obvious implication of an Anschluss between German neo-Nazis and U.S. Republicans.

“If Schorr was embarrassed by the Goldwater episode, his memoir shows no signs of it.”

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Insinuendo

Sarah Palin has suffered a certain amount of flack—and some praise as well—for her inadvertent neologism, “refudiate.” As readers of last week’s editorial (“Refudiate Liberalism!”) will recall, Palin implored “peaceful Muslims” (on Twitter) to “pls refudiate” plans for a multi-story mosque near Ground Zero in Manhattan. As she later explained, the word was not a deliberate invention but serendipity: Obviously, she was thinking of “refute” and “repudiate” and, as people sometimes do, hurriedly combined the terms in her mind, and—presto!

Comment, as The Scrapbook would have guessed, has fallen along partisan lines. Admirers of Palin think “refudiate” is an amusing, even clever, slip of the typing finger; critics of the former governor think it’s emblematic of implicit wickedness. The most pompous reaction, by any measure, came from one John F. Andrews, O.B.E., president of the Shakespeare Guild, who objected strenuously to Palin’s assertion that “English is a living language .  .  . Shakespeare liked to coin new words, too” by condemning “refudiate” as a “bastard currency [and] means to certify a failed governor.” To which The Scrapbook responds: Put a sock in it, John F. Andrews, O.B.E. 

“Refudiate” is in fact a dandy term that neatly combines the essential meaning of two separate ideas, and creates a novel word that is subtly distinct from its components. Indeed, it reminds us of another favorite (if officially unauthorized) combination, “insinuendo.” Modern tradition ascribes the coining of this happy marriage of “insinuate” and “innuendo” to the late Mayor Richard Daley of Chicago; but the Oxford English Dictionary claims a reference as far back as the South Carolina legislature in the 1880s. 

Whatever the truth of the matter, The Scrapbook  has a longtime attachment to “insinuendo.” Not only is its definition instantly obvious, and convenient for a variety of uses, it is (like refudiate) just plain fun to pronounce (“She habitually engages in insin-uendo”) and, not least, sounds like the title of a song that might have been sung in the 1950s by Frankie Laine. Imagine a long, orchestrated chord, followed by Frankie for two or three bars: “In—sin—u—en—do .  .  . ”

Refudiation for Sale!

Speaking of our neologism du jour, the boss’s “Refudiate Liberalism!” editorial last week generated a ton of email, snail mail, and phone calls from our esteemed readers. And a remarkable number wrote to suggest the creation of a Refudiation Party, with appropriate bumper stickers and T-shirts.

We’re nothing if not responsive to our readers, so we’ve gone ahead and done just that, as you’ll see from the ad below. Don’t be seen at your next dangerously patriotic tea party, close-mindedly uncosmopolitan neighborhood picnic, or gated community barbecue, without your “Refudiate Obama” or “Refudiate Socialism” or just plain old “Refudiate” T-shirt. 

Being a proud member of the Refudiation Party allows you at one and the same time to show solidarity with Sarah Palin and a Shakespearean openness to neologism—and to annoy any liberals you encounter. Not bad, for less money than Congress wastes in one nanosecond!

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