All animals are equal, some animals are more equal than others
I have been following Venezuela politics a little bit through my friend from college. Francisco Toro, who writes the excellent blog Carcacas Chronicles. What I’ve learned is how little I knew and still know. I’ve been inundated with sound bytes from the right (Chavez is a oppressive dictator) and the left (Chavez is a hero who saved his people). There are elements of truth in both these views.
What it’s gotten me thinking about is why these two things seem to necessarily go together. The communism experiments in China, Cuba, and Venezuela all show how what started off with good intentions (strong social infrastructure, reducing or eliminating poverty in their own countries) ended up with an oppressive regime that never left power, and/or some compromises with their original communist dogma. Whereas, in the United States and Europe we’ve had democracies with varying degrees of socialized infrastructure, but managed to avoid totalitarian reigns — at least for the last fifty years or so.
The absence of a totalitarian reign in the United States, and the absence of a coup against the government, is much more remarkable than it seems, when you look at the rest of the world.
The most divisive election and period of time in American history in my lifetime was 2000, during the Bush/Gore election. Whether Florida was rigged is sort of secondary. For an election to be so close as to come down to a few ballots one state is pretty scary, when you think about it. For all the talk about how the election was going to be close in 2008 and 2012, it wasn’t. Obama won by hefty margins, both in popular and electoral numbers.
And I think, looking back, that Justice Stephen Breyer was right when he wrote (in Making Our Democracy Work, 2011) that the most important thing that happened at the time was Gore graciously accepting the Supreme Court’s decision and encouraging people to do the same. Had he put up a fight, this country could easily have disintegrated into another civil war. We may be heading towards on anyway, if the far right continues to refuse to participate in our democratic process and accept the outcome of elections even if they don’t agree with the current leaders. The only thing that makes us a country is our shared belief in our democratic system, and the only thing that holds that democratic system together is the peaceful transition of power from one leader to another, regardless of political views. The only other alternatives are civil war or dictatorship.
Back to Chavez. As much as I’d like to believe that widespread social reform can happen without having one dictator to implement it and enforce it, history tells me otherwise. And the price of not living in a dictatorship seems to be that a functional democratic system needs to constantly seek out the center, the middle ground.