Venezuela is an extreme example of media being forced into “the tank with the incumbent”. “Under decades-old legislation designed to allow the government to communicate during a national emergency, the president is legally empowered to comandeer the airwaves on every TV channel and every radio broadcaster simultaneously, whenever he wants, for as long as he wants. ”
The government doesn’t have to pay for these so-called “cadena” (chain) broadcasts, or even give TV stations any advanced notice that one is coming and, as you probably guessed, cadenas are also often top-heavy with campaign themes. Such cadenas have taken up an average of 30 minutes per day since the official launch of the campaign on July 1.
And that’s not all. In the last six years, the Chávez government has made it an explicit goal to achieve “communication and information hegemony”, at once multiplying the number of state-owned media outlets and cracking down on critical broadcasters. Much of the state media is relentlessly propagandistic in the Soviet mold—just hour after hour of government boosterism and harsh, vitriolic attacks on the opposition. The remaining independent broadcasters, by contrast, are largely neutered: stepping on any of several never-clearly-spelled-out red lines can bring on heavy fines, serious harrassment or even a station closure. And so private news broadcasts are as anodyne as public ones are propagandistic.
But if they control the narrative, the vertical and the horizontal, Chavez’s current weakness is also a lesson in the law of diminishing propaganda returns. Lie enough and even when you tell the truth the broadcast is believed to be a lie. The state media has in consequence lost its credibility. Thus, despite his narrative advantages Chavez looks set to lose this election. Reality has beaten illusion. Chavez, who came to power promising to fundamentally transform Venezuela, who has been touting the need for ‘fairness’ from the beginning is being challenged by the average Venezuelan family who is now fairly hungry.
Why a single mom in the barrio dealing with constant power outages and water service interruptions, double-digit inflation and out of control crime is meant to care about universal equilibrium is never quite spelled out. Fourteen years on, he has little to say about “the concerns of people like you,” to use the hoary old polling cliché. Political power has clearly robbed him of his populist touch.
But the bigger problem for Chávez is that, while he remains personally well liked by most Venezuelans and fanatically adored by a not inconsiderable minority, even his most die-hard supporters realize his government stinks.
The government Chávez has built is a monumental fiasco. Corrupt, bureaucratic, opaque and wedded to unworkable ideological certainties, the chavista state is top-heavy with cronies and arbitrageurs who talk about the beauty of socialism all morning and siphon off the profits of crooked deals into off-shore bank accounts all afternoon. Today, it amounts to a sprawling bureaucracy that simply doesn’t have the resources to make good on the ideological checks the president spends his days writing.
If the situation in Venezuela sounds vaguely familiar to American readers it shouldn’t because any similarity between Hugo Chavez and any other political project both past and current is purely coincidental. The question pundits are asking now is: if Chavez loses, will he leave office? Ian James at the Associated Press reports:
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — President Hugo Chavez’s crusade to transform Venezuela into a socialist state, which has bitterly divided the nation, was put to the stiffest electoral test of his nearly 14 years in power on Sunday in a closely fought presidential election. …
“We will recognize the results, whatever they are,” Chavez told reporters after casting his vote in Caracas.
Chavez was greeted at the polling center by American actor Danny Glover and Guatemalan Nobel Peace Prize laureate Rigoberta Menchu. He said he was pleased to see a “massive turnout.”
The stakes, James writes, ‘couldn’t be higher’. If Chavez loses “an abrupt foreign policy shift can be expected, including halting preferential oil deals with allies such as Cuba, along with a loosening of state economic controls and an increase in private investment. A tense transition would likely follow until the January inauguration because Chavez’s political machine thoroughly controls the wheels of government.”
Well if Chavez won’t leave after he loses he’ll leave eventually. He must. A Chavez loss in Venezuela would confirm what the history of the 20th century has time and again suggested: that an authoritarian ideology never loses to advocates of common life, as conservatives might be called. And yet they lose.
As political opponents conservatives are too amateurish and inept. They don’t lie enough. They don’t conspire enough. They have to work their day-jobs. But in the end the professional socialists always lose to the amateurs. Without fail. Why?
Because power outages, food shortages, unemployment, high gas prices and pure entropy ultimately defeat any combination of media, entrenched bureaucracy and political machinery. Ultimately the facts burn through the propaganda and then the rottenness is revealed.
All that conservatives have ever accomplished through history is speed the process up of awakening by explaining to anyone who will listen why the paradise on earth project is failing. They succeed by pointing out the obvious; that there is no substitute for growing food, manufacturing goods, producing energy and generally living life instead of dreaming it. That’s not to say that conservatism is useless only that it cannot work without reality on its side.
You can fight Romney, but can you fight God? You can fight Republican talking points, but can you lower the gas prices? Or if you object to the word ‘God’, try the words ‘facts’, ‘prices’ or ‘arithmetic’. Nobody ever won against arithmetic. Not even Hugo Chavez with Venezuelan oil behind him. Tolkien captured this idea in one of the most memorable passages in The Return of the King.
Far above the Ephel Duath in the West the night-sky was still dim and pale. There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty forever beyond its reach. His song in the Tower had been defiance rather than hope; for then he was thinking of himself. Now, for a moment, his own fate, and even his master’s, ceased to trouble him. He crawled back into the brambles and laid himself by Frodo’s side, and putting away all fear he cast himself into a deep untroubled sleep.
We will bear the Ring, though we do not know the way.
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