Paul Jacob

Term limits really irk ambitious men.

And by “ambitious” I don’t mean the word in its modern, approbative meaning. In the old days, ambition was an excess of the drive for position, power, wealth, what-have-you. Ambition was not a virtue. It was a vice.

And the old meaning of that word fits Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías perfectly.

A person who really wants what’s best for his people works with his people, in a variety of ways, to organize support for change. He supports others in leadership. He knows when to bow out.

A person who just wants to remake the world in the course of consolidating power, on the other hand, merely wants followers. Mutual co-operation? Even-handed dealing? Not interested. Not if it means sometimes playing second fiddle, or back-row bass. Or not playing a big part at all.

Which is why term limits must rankle Chávez so. They require a man of ambition to step down after a fixed stretch of service. The dream of life-long leadership in the highest position? That is the dream of tyrants. It corrupts the souls of men who would lead . . . and of citizens who would follow.

Venezuela used to be a democratic republic: The country had constitutional limits on those in power, including term limits for its top position. Fourteen months ago, President Chávez sought a constitutional change to allow him to run for another term. Voters rejected this attempt. Narrowly. But Chávez, having consolidated his hold on the media and other institutions since then, came right back with another vote to end the limits. This time he won. He can now serve for life.

Norte Americanos ought not gloat. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently voided his own term limits. And he didn’t even bother to allow a public vote on the issue.

So, who’s the more anti-democratic, Chávez or Bloomberg?

New Yorkers are, on the whole, royally peeved at King Bloomberg. In Venezuela, Chávez’s opposition is philosophic. They say they believe in democracy, so they’ll abide by the vote of the people.

But it’s sad when the instrument of democracy — in this case what might be mistaken for a citizen initiative, but what was in fact a politician-induced (Chávez-induced) referendum — gets used to subvert democracy — in this case a constitutional term limit that helped prevent a dictatorship from being established.

Of course, it is no surprise that the “voice of the people” turned this way only after the squelching of free speech and the usurping of control over mass media by the government. Instead of advancing anything like a real democracy, Chávez’s so-called Bolivarian Revolution amounts to yet another pseudo-populist propaganda regime, with more than a tincture of thuggery added.

One need not oppose every policy Chávez adopts to oppose his latest motion to “president-for-life.” And this development was nothing really new. We got the best clue to his character in his first major political act, an attempted coup in 1992 . . . something rarely mentioned in the newspapers. (Funny how our beloved journalists almost never cite that, eh? Funny that they rarely quote a younger, military Chávez, saying he and his friends would be back, that their revolution was, at that time, suspended only “por ahora.”) Yes, the key to understanding Hugo Chávez was revealed for all, 17 years ago.

Do we really need another read of The Road to Serfdom to suspect the worst? Nope. If one had any doubts about his dictatorial tendencies, all one need do is look at that coup.

Or this successful removal of term limits. 


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.