SO IF YOU wanted to have the leader of a foreign government assassinated in the interest of truth, justice, and the American Way, or maybe just out of pure personal irritation, how would you go about arranging it? Have a quiet t�te-�-t�te with a representative of the CIA? (Aren’t assassinations its department, or have they been transferred, like everything else, to Homeland Security?)
If you had a lot of political clout, like a certain televangelist used to have, maybe you could get some face time with the commander-in-chief hisself. Or if you could no longer swing a private audience with The Man, mainly because you’ve already said so many strange and embarrassing things in public, like how feminism encourages women to “kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians,” in ascending order of danger, we suppose, then perhaps you could send the president a written messagein code of course, considering the delicacy of the subject. Or you could just give up on the White House and try to make contact with the mob, which has considerable experience in these matters.
But something tells us that, of all the various recourses to be had in so tricky a business, the last thing an ordained minister and alleged adult would do is use his nationally broadcast television program to tell God and everybody that this country ought to rub out Venezuela’s president, an aspiring Fidel Castro named Hugo Chavez.
Yet that’s just what that brilliant global strategist and all-around bore, the Reverend Mr. M. G. “Pat” Robertson, has done. To quote his oh-so-diplomatic advice on how to deal with Venezuela’s tinpot Caesar: “We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability.”
Who writes this stuffóGuy Noire, Private Eye? Alas, this is the kind of wisdom the country has come to expect from the Reverend Pat, who hasn’t been much revered for years now. Naturally his modest proposal sparked some raucous talk-show debatesóis there any other kind?óbut official Washington scurried to distance itself from his brilliant idea. It’ll probably prove just a blip on the screen, something to liven up the dog days of August. In this country.
But, ho boy, can you imagine how it must be going over in Latin America? The Rev’s comment was just what Venezuela’s wannabe despot needed to spice up his visit with Numero Uno in Cuba, and to bolster his standing at home. However much Venezuelans may loathe their leader, and understand the threat he represents to their remaining freedoms, Colonel Chavez is their caudillo and they don’t need any gringo preacher telling them how to handle their own No. 1 Problem, thank you, especially if the suggestion is, well, extra-legal.
It was as if the Reverend Pat had deliberately set out to personify the Yanqui imperialist of the cartoons. Hugo Chavez couldn’t have bought that kind of endorsement, however unintended, even with all of Venezuela’s oil money. And here he’s been given it as a gift.
The colonel, who runs a kind of nonstop 700 Club of his own on Venezuelan radio, had just about succeeded in putting the whole, oil-rich country to sleep with his non-stop monologues, which is something else he has in common with Comrade Fidel. But now he has a month’s new material, thanks to the Reverend Pat Robertson. Brilliant, Reverend, just brilliant.
Do you think that, after playing so close to the edge for years, the Reverend Robertson has finally gone over it? We know there are some readers who would disagree with that diagnosis, and assert that actually the Reverend Robertson lost it years ago. They may have a point. By now he’s peddled more conspiracy theories than, well, anybody we can think of offhand. He really ought to be broadcasting out of Roswell, N.M., rather than Virginia Beach, Va.
And this week he proposes an assassination plot, although to call this latest wild hair of his a plot would be to dignify it beyond all proportion. After a lot of unseemly wiggling and a couple of days, the Reverend finally fessed up and apologized, kind of. But the damage had been done. Especially to his own reputation. It’s hard to take the Reverend seriously any moreóif you ever could.
HUGO CHAVEZ, on the other hand, represents a serious threat, first to Venezuela’s precarious democracy, and then to whatever neighboring states he can undermine.
Unlike the police state Fidel Castro has set up in Cuba, Venezuela is not separated from the rest of Latin America by the Caribbean. It can readily export guerrillas as well as oil, and no one should underestimate Hugo Chavez’s ambition, which is as obvious as his demagoguery. Now, in Pat Robertson, he’s found the perfect foil.
By now the Rev. Robertson has become the conservatives’ Michael Moore: a general embarrassment. These now familiar types seem so angry all the time that, even when their voices remain level, their minds seem to have no room for circumspection, for prudence, for thinking before speaking. Strange, isn’t it, that the fires of anger should burn so brightly yet shed so little light?
At 75, the Reverend Pat has slowed down a little and by now is only a slowly whirling dervish. He’s become a kind of superannuated Ann Coulter without the wit and dash, but he’s just demonstrated that he’s still capable of embarrassing his government.
What is it about the Pat Robertsons and Michael Moores, those perfectly matched icons, one each left and right? Each is personally, commercially successful, yet each robs his cause of credibility. Much like French politics, their conspiracy-mongering may be amusing, but it can’t be taken seriously. Each may win the allegiance of an increasingly small coterie of True Believers, but in the process they forfeit the real prize: American public opinion in general, which, despite all outward signs, remains obdurately sensible. Yet they go on, capable of saying anything, incapable only of shutting up.