Stone: Romancing Chávez

Award-winning director Oliver Stone sides with Venezuelan politics at recent Students for Liberty Conference.

Did a free and fair election return Lyndon Johnson to the White House? In respectable company the answer to this question is non-negotiable. For the director of The Untold History of the United States, however, a vote for Johnson was a vote for a “psycho” who knew about, and helped cover up, the coup that put him in president Kennedy’s chair.

For more than a trivial number of Americans, Oliver Stone’s JFK is part of the Rosetta Stone of American darkness—the pattern of corruption and criminality that conspiracy theorists trace in an unbroken line from World War Two to the present day.

For even more Americans, despite Stone’s political eccentricities, he’s a figure worth inviting to the party. Brash, outspoken, uncompromising, and well-connected, political argument becomes more fun, or at least more newsworthy, with him around.

Perhaps that’s why Stone received a gracious welcome at Saturday’s yearly Students for Liberty Conference, the influential national gathering of young libertarians. The most significant political sensibility among millennials combines classical free market liberalism with the virulent anti-statism of the radical left. So when Jeremy Scahill, for instance, wants to talk about his work with Glenn Greenwald, Students for Liberty want to listen. And when Scahill brings Stone along for the ride, no one complains.

Until, that is, the issue of Venezuela comes up.

As Mediaite’s Andrew Kirell recounts, “a South American student confronted Stone” during his SLC appearance “about his disdain for American overreach while also supporting abusive leftist regimes like that of the late Hugo Chávez.” According to Kirell, “Stone responded that he believes the American press does not give the Venezuelan administration a fair shake; and that he’s fine with political opposition so long as it’s done legally. The South of the Border director reiterated his belief that the U.S. government illegally and covertly subverts Latin American leaders.”

Yahoo’s Chris Moody relayed a different detail: “Venezuela is a democratically elected government,” he quoted Stone in a tweet. “These people who keep protesting are sore losers.” Speaking for plenty of libertarians, liberals, and conservatives, Howard Dean (of all people) chimed in: “Not clear that this Venezuelan govt. is democratically elected. Chavez was at first but recent election was not clean.”

But raise your hand if your political memory is flashing on the Bush partisans who passed out “Sore Loserman” bumper stickers at the height of the 2000 recount crisis. That’s not a coincidence. Stone’s fellow Chávez sympathizer, the investigative reporter Greg Palast, has alleged that the same corporation which “purged” Florida’s voter rolls to benefit the Bushes also “shoplifted Venezuela’s voter rolls” as part of America’s bipartisan effort to subvert and destroy the Chávez regime.

Whatever the truth, there’s little doubt that both the Bush and Obama administrations meddled in the affairs of the Venezuelan people. But for Stone and company, calling out the despots lording over Venezuelans is a distraction from the bigger picture—our own American regime’s massive heart of darkness.

That’s the charitable view, at any rate. Less charitably, Stone’s true love isn’t for liberty but power. He also told Students for Liberty that Barack Obama “stunned us with a lack of spine.” Stone’s final verdict on the president? “He’s a weak man.”

Yes, a president needs courage to stand up to corruption and criminality in his own country. Must that compel the left’s anti-statists to celebrate the unwillingness of Venezuela’s tyrants to back down before American power?

It’s a question with broader implications than the “warfare state” they so often decry. The dilemma president Obama has posed for liberals and progressives is a simple one: what’s the alternative? For some, the answer is “full communism.” For others, it’s Hillary Clinton. There’s got to be a better answer.

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If the antiwar, anti-state left allows itself to dance around just how unfree Venezuela’s regime really is, liberals will be pushed to choose between revolutionary statism of the Marxist variety and establishmentarian statism of the neoliberal kind.

As it turns out, the enemy of your enemy really isn’t your friend. That might leave you with precious little friends. But in politics, you don’t fail because you lack friends. You fail because you surround yourself with bad ones.