Paul Jacob

Dictators are made, not born. And one was just made in Venezuela. In late January, President Hugo Chavez was granted 18 months to rule by decree. The word of one man — law.

Who granted him that power? The Venezuelan National Assembly.


Note both the extremity and the unanimity. Of course, there are hordes of Venezuelans on that side, too. They’ve democratically given up on democracy.

When President Bush publicly worried about the situation in Venezuela, Chavez went ballistic in his usual fashion, excoriating his “devil”; yes, he claimed to be more worried about the “dictatorship” of George W. Bush, and Bush’s alleged threat to democracies around the world.

Regardless of one’s view on the Iraq War, the former Ba’athist regime was certainly no democracy. And though I find a great deal to disagree with concerning this president’s expansive view of presidential power, it is not Mr. Bush who has 18 months to rule by decree, rule by his word and edict alone, without working through Congress.

Chavez is, in a sense, the ultimate free man (in the “positive liberty” sense, as a liberty conceived without limits), free to do anything theoretically possible. It’s the rest of Venezuela that’s less free, as a result.

Chavez looks at it differently. “The people gave me the power I have, and it’s within the framework of a constitution.”

Look, I’ve not read Venezuela’s Constitution. I’ll leave that to the Venezuelan people themselves. But I can say, with confidence, even as I relax in a chair thousands of miles north, that a constitution that permits a dictatorship has something severely wrong with it.

Indeed, Americans — left, right and center — often complain about their own government’s incursions beyond its proper sphere, our government’s steps towards dictatorial governance. We even criticize our own Constitution, too. And the courts that interpret it.

The key to politics is freedom. The freedom to discuss, disagree, debate. The enemy? As always, dictatorship. And that’s precisely what has been set up in Venezuela.

Why? I’m sure there are many reasons. But let’s not forget the prime one: socialism.

With vast oil wealth to expropriate, socialism is understandably tempting in Venezuela. After all, socialism is no good at running a whole economy, but as an advanced form of kleptocracy it can provide a little fun for a spell.

Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.