Dying Dictators and Double Standards

That great American ambassador and lovely lady Jeane Kirkpatrick has left us, but her passing also causes us to remember her strategic sense and moral clarity. She came to national prominence in Reaganite-circles in 1979 with her marvelous Commentary magazine essay on "Dictatorship and Double Standards." It argued that traditional authoritarian autocracies were both more susceptible to liberalization and more amenable to American interests than totalitarian dictatorships of the left, which came into power with disturbing frequency in the late 1970s, with America as their stated enemy.

She easily explained how the Carter administration and the press romantically saw in the revolutionary left a shared commitment to modernity over tradition, science over religion, an educated bureaucracy over private hierarchies, and futuristic and universal goals over appeals to an archaic and ordered past.

How little things have changed 26 years later. Even now, Jimmy Carter is touring the country blasting our democratic friends in Israel (smearing them in his book title as racist architects of "apartheid") and making excuses for Palestinian terrorists completely at odds with American interests, just as the press continues betraying sympathy for left-wing totalitarians while blasting long-faded right-wing authoritarians.

To prove the point, three days after Mrs. Kirkpatrick passed away, the former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet died. Pinochet was one autocrat who proved Kirkpatrick right. During his tenure, he set in motion economic reforms which made Chile's economy an envy to every other country in Latin America, and after 15 years of rule, he allowed a national plebiscite to vote against him, and he stepped down in 1990. But none of that mattered to the American press, still boiling with rage over his misdeeds.

The Washington Post headline was "A Dictator's Dark Legacy" and the reporters began by reporting his government "murdered and tortured thousands during his repressive 17-year rule… leaving a legacy of abuse that took successive governments years to catalogue." His death left an "incomplete" crusade to seek "justice" for his reign in the courts.

The New York Times headline noted Pinochet was a "Dictator Who Ruled by Terror in Chile." The Times began by describing him as "the brutal dictator who repressed and reshaped Chile for nearly two decades and became a notorious symbol of human rights abuse and corruption." He was "never brought to trial." Both the Post and the Times used post-Pinochet government estimates that more than 3,000 people were executed or disappeared during the Pinochet dictatorship.

But the same press that despises right-wing autocrats cannot bring that same vigorous denunciation to bear when a communist dictator dies. When Chinese dictator Deng Xiaoping died in 1997, the Post mentioned the "bloody crackdown" in Tiananmen Square in 1989, but the words "dictator" or "dark legacy" did not appear in the headline, which simply recited the fact of death: "China's Deng Xiaoping, Dead at 92." The Post reporter did not attempt to enumerate the thousands or millions killed on Deng's watch, or wonder why he was never put on trial.

The Post presented Deng as a great liberalizer, to a point. "Deng had guided the country out of the chaos of the Cultural Revolution, flung open China's doors to the outside world and loosened the grip of central economic planning," while, ahem, "insisting that the Communist Party's monopoly on power go unchallenged."

Some communist leaders couldn't even be accused of liberalizing tendencies. When Korean despot Kim Il Sung died in 1994, the New York Times couldn't call him a dictator in their headlines, let along mention ruling by terror. The second story on the death was headlined "Kim Il Sung, Enigmatic 'Great Leader" of North Korea for 5 Decades, Dies at 82."

The Times reporter proclaimed that to some Kim was "seen as a Stalinist maniac." (Note the qualifier "seen as.") And to others? There was also the "grandfatherly Kim Il Sung," a "smiling leader seeking respect for his economically disabled nation, the man who three weeks ago embraced Jimmy Carter" as a way of establishing contact with President Clinton.

So let's review. A right-wing ruler responsible for the deaths of 3,000 — but also responsible for an economic miracle of free enterprise, and who allowed the democratic process which forced him from power — "dictator." But communist despots who controlled their citizens with iron fists until the day they died, preventing all manner of political, economic, and religious freedoms, and who caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands, if not millions — "leaders."

The more things change, the more they stay the same. While some still seek to defend both democracy and American interests, there are those who still fawn over communist and terrorist thugs. May our legacy be to tell the truth as it was Jeane Kirkpatrick's.

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  • Guest

    I love Catholic Exchange, but I continue to be disappointed in the partisan political agenda that sometimes appears here. There are frequent articles criticizing contemporary democratic figures, but rarely are there articles that criticize republicans. As faithful Catholics, we all certainly agree that some political issues like abortion, euthenasia, stem cell research and gay marriage take priority over the others. Typically democratic politicians hold a viewpoint on these issues that is contrary to Catholic teaching; therefore it is understandable that there would be articles speaking out against such politicians on Catholic Exchange. However, there are also a disproportionate number of articles that endorse republicans and disparage democrats on other issues (such as the war in Iraq). Sometimes I get the impression that being a faithful Catholic is synonymous with being anti-democrat and fully embracing all the values of the republican party. While my voting choices revolve around the Catholic issues that I mentioned above (abortion, etc), I still disagree with the sometimes not so subtle partisanship that occurs here.

  • Guest

    One thing you do have to remember about Catholic Exchange is that many of the articles here were not written specifically FOR Catholic Exchange. In fact, you are able to upload any news articles in the news section you would like. CE is a huge portal that brings together many articles that are pertinent for the readers. That being said, PLEASE LET CE KNOW OF ANY ARTICLES that you would like to see (as you have described above)! I have no doubt they would be happy to load it up here as well. This specific concern has been brought up a few months ago. The answer was – IF ANYONE KNOWS OF SUCH ARTICLES, PLEASE SEND THEM ALONG. It just seems that such articles do not exist.

  • Guest

    Pardon my ascerbic sarcasm – or, NOT, for all I care, but . . .

    Well, please, Claire – name a Catholic Democrat I can admire . . . [take your time]! Of those not Catholic, perhaps, Barack Obama? (One of my own Senators, I might add . . .) The most sophisticated-sounding rubber-stamp to hit Foggy Bottom? The man is a platitude-and-cliche storage dump!

    Of a fact, Claire, Democrats have ‘abortion’ as the biggest plank in their platform. Their secularist-activist (indeed, Claire, BigLie!) ways are becoming stuff of legend. They tend to lock-step foolishness. Of what would you have anyone searching for truth say positively about their unholy phoniness? Of a question . . . their philosophies your own, too?

    And, I have never seen an endorement here of any candidate, nor any call to not-vote for any candidate. Your exaggeration sounds . . . well . . . Democratic! Not partisan, are we, Claire?

    As for me, I have been an independent voter even as Democratic policies and politicians narrow my choices from among them. And, frankly, the same can be said of too many Republicans. Sometimes, I have written-in my own name, over any party candidates. But, too, I do have to vote for someone, eh? I’ll pray for the Democrats (they like all of us need it) but I cannot vote for them.

    And, permit me to edit to add, long before I came upon CE, Democrats and their sleaze-media cohorts (whose left-leaning ‘Democratic’ ways (as Mr. Bozell points out) seem not to bother you) were anathema to most of my thoughts and votes.

    I remain your obedient servant, but God’s first,

    Pristinus Sapienter

    (wljewell @mail.catholicexchange.com or …yahoo.com)

  • Guest

    It’s really sad that someone who claims to be God’s servant feels the need to post a comment using such a sarcastic and nasty tone. I would hope that Catholic Christians would be able to voice their disagreements in a more charitable and polite manner. Since you don’t want to engage in a civil discussion, I won’t bother responding to the points you made, some of which might be valid if the sarcastic and nasty veil could be peeled away.

  • Guest

    I can think on one Catholic that is a Democrat that I admire and that is the former Mayor of Boston and Ambassador to the Vatacin Ray Flynn.

    Old Soldier

    “Peace be with you”

  • Guest

    To Claire . . . since when is sarcasm sinful? (To my surprise, in searching the USCCB site for reference to ‘sarcasm’ in the CCC – NONE!) As well, you do not answer me. I consider my questions civil enough. And, I can serve God well enough using the talents He has given me – one of which is a wide-ranging wit.

    Old Soldier, I defer to your commendation. Mr. Flynn is a mighty Catholic, and indeed a Democratic leader. Too bad so few Democrats follow him; he would be more in the news (and my memory, of course) if they did. He is simple, straight-forward and most Christian. Thank you for your vote, and your reminder. I will not forget again.

    I remain your obedient servant, but STILL God’s first,

    Pristinus Sapienter

    (wljewell @mail.catholicexchange.com or …yahoo.com)

  • Guest


    “Foggy Bottom?” Isn’t that a metonym for the State Department? I thought Hizzoner Obama was in the Senate. Or are you making a snide/sly/obscure pun that I’ve not caught.


    “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried”

    “The poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese.” – GK Chesterton

  • Guest

    I assign anything Washington, Desperate Clods, as a ‘Foggy Bottom’ merely crystallized by our weird Department of State. (I always thought of them as employees – my bad, huh?)

    I did refer to Obanana as a Senator. So have a majority of Illinois voters. The man IS a ‘snide/sly/obscure pun’ – a subtly rank joke of a Senator – sorta like the ‘po’-white-folk’ K-boys outta Massa-chew-it. Obankrupta’s latest book is reviewed in December’s Commentary magazine. Pretentious in name alone – The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream. The reviewer, one Yuval Levin, calls its political statements ‘bland and flat . . . (Obama’s) analysis . . . an endless barrage of cliches’.

    Hey, what’s a BigLie unless it can be used over and over again? OH, YES – that is the hackneyed earmark of a BigLie, isn’t it?

    I remain your obedient servant, but God’s first,

    Pristinus Sapienter

    (wljewell @mail.catholicexchange.com or …yahoo.com)