At the “Uninvited” event alongside the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) Thursday, I had the opportunity to speak on a panel about the ongoing crisis inUkraine. I pointed out that if CPAC had ignored Ukraine to some extent, even the “Uninvited” had largely missed Venezuela. In fact, conservative new media–aside from my colleagues John Sexton and Frances Martel have all but ignored the protests in Venezuela.
That is puzzling. The villain is an authoritarian socialist regime that is aligned with America’s geopolitical enemies. And if there were ever an opportunity to reach out to a Latino audience, this is it. So why have we echoed the mainstream media’s relative lack of interest in Venezuela? Why have we focused on Ukraine and Vladimir Putin, while overlooking Nicolás Maduro’s regime and the violence it has unleashed in the streets?
I’ve batted the idea around with John and Frances, and we’ve come up with a few theories. One is that our media is so used to lumping general Latin American issues together with the local immigration debate that conservative media, like other media, struggle to make the distinction. Another is that the Venezuelan opposition has been poorly led, at times, and so presents lower expectations of success than we saw in Ukraine.
I think, however, that there is a more important reason: Maduro is not Putin. Putin, with his swashbuckling image and brash tactics, is a compelling contrast with Barack Obama’s “mom jeans” and limp appeals to the international community. Our liberal critics have noticed our fascination with that contrast, and accuse us of actively rooting for Putin. That’s not true: we don’t want Putin to win. We just wish we had a better leader.
Maduro does not provide that kind of contrast. He is seen as kind of a hapless, clumsy figure, the caretaker of Hugo Chávez’s sorry project of nationalization and redistribution, more a leader by accident than by will. If Chávez were still around, perhaps, the characters of the Venezuelan drama might have been more compelling–particularly the similarities between charismatic leadership and big-government failure in both our countries.
There is also more at stake, in a geopolitical sense, in a confrontation between Russia and the west. And the old Cold War-style standoff is a more familiar narrative than a messy pushback against populist dictatorship in a developing country. But while Ukraine poses fascinating foreign policy questions, the crisis in Venezuela has domestic implications for us as well. It is well past time for the conservative media, at least, to pay attention.