Mona Charen

You've probably seen the TV commercials -- former congressman Joseph P. Kennedy II beckons you to enjoy reduced-price heating oil if you are struggling to keep your house warm, thanks to "our good friends in Venezuela." He then offers a few heartwarming examples of poor people who have taken advantage of the program and offers the toll free number: 1-877-JOE-4-OIL (1-877-563-4645).

So what if Joe Kennedy and Hugo Chavez get a propaganda bonanza, you may say, so long as poor people are benefiting? Kennedy himself has defended the program as "righteous."

So let's see, the poor should accept charity from a would-be dictator who has formed an alliance with Iran and Cuba, who has denounced the United States as the greatest threat to peace and security in the world and called the U.S. president "the devil" and "a genocidal murderer." They should permit themselves to be used by a man who attempted to subvert his country's constitution, proclaimed his goal as "socialism or death," and launched the most comprehensive assault on freedom of the press in Latin America this side of Castro?

"Our good [friend] in Venezuela" just last month suffered a key rebuke from his own people when he attempted to amend the constitution. Chavez's proposed "reforms" would have permitted him to serve for life, ended the autonomy of the central bank, permitted the president to rule by decree, and given him broad powers to suspend civil liberties and seize private property under indefinite states of emergency. A broad spectrum of Venezuelan society united to oppose this "constitutional coup" and narrowly defeated the measure. With his characteristic good grace, Chavez called it a "s---t victory."

How can Mr. Kennedy reconcile the fact that Chavez has in the past pushed OPEC to reduce output to increase prices which affects all Americans, but the poor most of all -- with his pose as Mr. Bountiful? Gosh, is that the act of someone who truly cares about the world's poor?

It isn't as if Chavez has improved life so much in Venezuela that he can now look abroad for charitable opportunities. According to the Associated Press, Venezuela's inflation rate has now topped 22 percent, Latin America's highest. The government has imposed price controls in a bid to control inflation, which has led to shortages of basic items like milk, eggs and sugar. Consumers are also having trouble finding chickens, cooking oil and black beans in supermarkets.

One can understand Mr. Kennedy's desire to help the poor heat their homes in the winter. But to shill for a figure like Chavez? There are other options, including federal programs. Doesn't Kennedy cringe when he reads accounts like this from CNN last May?

Mona Charen

Mona Charen is a syndicated columnist, political analyst and author of Do-Gooders: How Liberals Hurt Those They Claim to Help .
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