Let Chavez Be Chavez

It was surprising — and somewhat refreshing, perhaps — when some prominent Democrats stood up and criticized Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez for calling President Bush "the devil" during his U.N. address last week.

Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., a frequent critic of Bush, was first out of the box.

"I just want to make it abundantly clear to Hugo Chavez or any other president — don’t come to the United States and think because we have problems with our president that any foreigner can come to our country and not think that Americans do not feel offended when you offend our chief of state," he said.

Despite all the confusing negatives, it was clear what Rangel was saying: Any demeaning public attack against him is viewed by Republicans and Democrats, and all Americans, as an attack on all of us.

Then it was House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s turn. She had spent most of the day launching blistering attacks on Bush, but said Chavez "demeaned" himself and his nation.

"He fancies himself as a modern-day Simon Bolivar, but all he is is an everyday thug," she said.

Even the man known as Chavez’s best friend in the U.S. Congress — Rep. William Delahunt, D-Mass. — expressed remorse at the comments.

"It was entirely unacceptable," he said. ""This would have been an opportunity to begin to repair the relationship between the countries and instead he took a different tack."

It was all very statesmanlike — and stateswomanlike — it would seem. Was America recapturing the kind of political unity it experienced after Sept. 11?

Not quite.

It’s an election year. And what we witnessed last week, sadly, was electioneering.

Rangel and Pelosi are politicians savvy enough to know what Chavez did in his U.N. address validated everything the Bush administration has been saying about him and then some. They understood that Chavez had done the Democrats a grave disservice in an election year. He had, no doubt, persuaded some Americans it was time to get behind the president — which can only help Republicans in November.

Now, personally, I think there are many Republicans unworthy of being returned to Congress this year. And there are even more Democrats unworthy and unqualified to have occupied their seats in the first place.

Nevertheless, it’s important to understand that Americans, and all freedom-loving people, have real enemies in the world — and one of them is Hugo Chavez.

That’s why I say: Let Hugo be Hugo.

I think it’s good for Americans to see this kind of behavior with their own eyes. I think it’s good for Americans to hear these words with their own ears. This wasn’t an unusual speech by Chavez. It’s what he says all the time. But seldom does he have such a large stage — and seldom do the networks broadcast it. Seldom do the newspapers put it on the front page.

As for Delahunt, he has aided Chavez’s propaganda efforts in this country. He brokered a deal with Chavez to supply 12 million gallons of discounted home heating oil to low-income Massachusetts residents. It was an effort by Chavez to win over Americans the way he wins over his own abject subjects — by buying them off.

But now Chavez, once an asset to his schemes, had become a political liability for Delahunt.

He didn’t want to be seen as a "thug" like Chavez. Neither did Rangel or Pelosi.

Again, I say: Let Hugo be Hugo. It’s good for America. Maybe if we see enough of this kind of spectacle, Americans will send all of the thugs — along with their U.N. hosts — packing for good.