Hugo Chavez’s Grip-and-Grin with Barack Obama


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Barack Obama continues to throw off his political rivals by doing the unexpected — and posturing with a handshake and smile does much to win hearts and minds around the world regardless of how troublesome Hugo Chavez is.
— Steve Clemons


19 comments on “Hugo Chavez’s Grip-and-Grin with Barack Obama

  1. Mr.Murder says:

    This was a great moment. When fighting a heavyweight and trying to rope a dope and wear him down, HUG HIM, STEP ON HIS TOES, that way he can’t get weight behind his punches and stays off balance.
    Using the standard tone and rhetoric casts political campaign in favor of reactionary vote swings sparked by static and antipathy.
    Oabma danced around it for the most part and instead is ready to claim credit if the votes swing the other way, or claim a boost in support for Chavez resulted from Obama’s moderation.
    This should work directly, and plausibly.


  2. arthurdecco says:

    Mr. Clemons, I regret not saying this immediately: This was my first time watching you…and you nailed it!
    (Ever play piano in a bar band? LOL!)
    “Good job” doesn’t begin to describe what yer doin’ here on the Washington Note.


  3. arthurdecco says:

    “Hey Arthur, your gettin’ good at this!” posted by POA
    “Shucks”, looks down, skuffs a shoe thru the dust…, “thanks, but I’ve had some practice.”


  4. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “But hey! Why should you worry about ‘accuracy in language’ or in telling the truth about someone when you can make up stuff more in line with what you want to believe about them? It’s so much easier to type too, when it’s just more of the same blather you always type, isn’t it?”
    Hey Arthur, your gettin’ good at this!


  5. arthurdecco says:

    Re: Nigel, Apr 22 2009, 3:52PM
    Unlike you, I have no idea what Chavez’ “core message” is because I don’t speak or understand Spanish. I’m reliant on my English speaking media to translate his words for me and so far they haven’t been doing their job with much integrity. I’ve gotten a few whiffs here and there about what he may be thinking by paying attention to what he does and by reading between the lines in those stories I have read that appear to have been written expressly to demonize and/or misrepresent him and his policies. Judging by what he does, he’s a hell of a democrat – nowhere near the “dictator” that so many of his critics accuse him of being.
    American presidents can now lock up anyone anywhere without telling anyone. Chavez can’t and wouldn’t. Because by doing that he’d be turning himself into a brimstoned copy of those he rightly loathes.
    But I gotta tell ya I just love how you fellows ALWAYS have an explanation or revelation handy about what motivates people you know next to nothing about. Your whole rebuttal post at 3:52pm was nonsense, Nigel. You have no way of knowing why Chavez does the things he does, or even what it is he does. Nor do any of us for that matter, as dependent on our manipulative media for an accurate accounting of historic events as we are.
    You accuse me of “playing Semantics”. The word semantics means: “The study of language meaning”. I’m sure that’s not the meaning you meant to convey in your musing on President Chavez’ motivations and my supposed lack of clarity or candor or whatever it was you were trying to get across.
    But hey! Why should you worry about ‘accuracy in language’ or in telling the truth about someone when you can make up stuff more in line with what you want to believe about them? It’s so much easier to type too, when it’s just more of the same blather you always type, isn’t it?


  6. Nigel says:

    Your playing semantics arthurdecco, the core message was rallying
    against an USA that was uncaring, large & exploitative. What
    Obama did was remove a key tenant of that message, which was
    that the USA was uncaring, you do that & you force Chavez to
    target other areas of US policy, but wherever Chavez goes in
    direction he is haunted by a USA that is no longer just responding,
    but instead is starting to dictate the agenda, forcing it’s
    “opponents” to reduce momentum ( eg. Cuba ), that is a pretty
    critical change in strategy from the USA.


  7. arthurdecco says:

    Chavez has never accused America of being “big bad”, Nigel Caughey. Rather, he has always focused his ire on its movers and shakers and their empty suit, sociopathological political front men.
    They’re the Americans who earned his disgust with their criminal actions around the world. Surely you remember the Bushies conspired with his tattered but wealthy opposition to overthrow him in a putsch because he had the effrontery to give back to his fellow citizens some of the financial benefits of Venezuela’s oil-exporting economy? That fact alone makes much of his overblown rhetoric understandable to me.
    Have you forgotten that Venezuela subsidized heating oil deliveries to low income Americans and the institutions that supported them while the last American administration ignored their own citizens’ desperate plight that came about because of the meteoric rise in oil prices brought on by world-wide instability caused by their own government’s international criminal interventions and their financial backers’ financial manipulations?
    Venezuela’s president isn’t stupid, uninformed or irrational like so many of his detractors are – he recognizes as well as anyone that its time to cut the new American president some slack – at least until that time when it becomes untenable to do so because either Obama or his administration fails to engage the world fairly and responsibly.
    I think you’ve confused Hugo Chavez’s distaste for America’s Oligarchy Fascism with “anti-Americanism” – a common mistake made by more than a few Americans, it seems.


  8. Nigel Caughey says:

    I’d also argue whilst increasing Obama’s stature, mainly the act
    took alot of air out of Chavez’s sails, his platform of big bad
    America just got punctured by Obama’s smile into many pieces.


  9. questions says:

    Right click on the word and “add to dictionary” and the red lines will be gone forever.


  10. Paul Norheim says:

    Sorry: “Adolf” is the name of the beast. In my spelling program,
    however, “Adolf”, as well as “Obama” (even “PÃ¥l”), generate a red
    line under the names. Adolph and Paul is accepted. Well, well…


  11. Paul Norheim says:

    “Charlie Manson had charisma too”.
    Exactly. Several political commentators in the decades after Max
    Weber`s death have noted that his definition of “charismatic
    leadership” was an apt description of Adolph Hitler. Weber himself
    mentions Napoleon, Jesus, and Pericles as “charismatic” – even
    some Nordic viking “berserks” (an equivalent to Charles Manson?)
    – and underlines that it says nothing about the morality of a


  12. Paul Norheim says:

    if Chavez`nose detected any sign that the devil was in the vicinity
    during their recent meeting, El Presidente certainly is a good


  13. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Charlie Manson had charisma too.
    I’d be interested in knowing what Chavez’ nose was telling him about Obama, because the man definitely has an accute sense of smell.


  14. Paul Norheim says:

    If I had a voice (I feel more comfortable sitting in front of a piano),
    I would be happy to sing in a choir with Steve and Dan. But I
    sincerely doubt that a requiem for the most powerful man on the
    planet would be my first choice.
    In any case, the irrational, right side of my brain really enjoyed
    this part of your post: “Before the gods destroy a politician they
    first bestow him with the gifts of “charisma”. (While the left side of
    my brain shares your admiration for the Austrian writer Robert
    Musil. I wish someone with his eye and intellect could write about
    America at the beginning of the 21. century).


  15. Zathras says:

    I don’t think it’s helpful to get too deep about this. In foreign capitals, an American President able publicly to show he understands the difference between a genuine menace and a nuisance like Chavez would likely be greeted with relief whether his name were Barack Obama or not.
    I’ll take my chances on the abyss of Hades thing.


  16. kotzabasis says:

    Before the gods destroy a politician they first bestow him with the gifts of “charisma,” “mystique,” and “aura.” It is by the diplomatic exercise of these Kantian noumenal transcendental qualities of Obama with the irreconcilable mortal enemies of America that will cast him into the abyss of Hades, while the requiem will be sang by the choir of Clemons and Norheim and maybe Kervick will join them as a baritone to their shrills.


  17. Paul Norheim says:

    It`s tempting to apply the term “charismatic leadership”, coined
    by the German sociologist Max Weber (1864-1920) to the
    current POTUS. In a famous, posthumously published
    manuscript, he distinguished between three types of authority (I
    am sitting with a Norwegian translation at home, and don`t
    know the exact English translations or German originals of the
    1) Legal authority.
    2) Traditional authority.
    3) Charismatic authority.
    These are what Weber defines as “ideal types”; in real life we
    usually find a mixture of two, or all three forms.
    Within charismatic leadership, it is the leader as a person who is
    obeyed – not because of any law bound position or traditional
    dignity, but due to his personal, highly unusual faculties. And
    he is obeyed only as long as he is perceived as possessing these
    faculties or talents. When “his god has left him”, or he is
    deprived of his powers as a hero, or the masses lose their faith
    in his leadership, his power vanishes.
    Basically, Weber says, the principle of legitimacy within
    charismatic rule is authoritarian. However, it can also be
    interpreted in an anti-authoritarian direction. According to this
    interpretation, the legitimacy of the charismatic leader depends
    on the democratic and free acceptance of the subjects (the
    people). Then the acceptance is transformed to “election”, and
    the ruler, who originally legitimated himself through his own
    charisma, becomes a ruler at the mercy of the people and
    through a mandate.
    As long as an elected charismatic leader succeeds in claiming
    that he has the trust of the voters, he will act in full accordance
    to his own personal judgement (leadership-democracy; I think
    the German term is “Führer-Democratie”), and not – as the
    ordinary, elected official – in accordance with the expressed or
    assumed will of the voters (expressed in an “imperative
    Among more or less charismatic leaders in recent US history,
    one could mention Kennedy, Reagan, and Clinton. One of the
    main problems with the principle of charismatic authority is
    related to successors. After J.F.K., you got L.B.J. And after
    Reagan, Bush sr. etc. Max Weber mentions these problems, and
    how they have been solved in in different situations.
    Sometimes the “charisma-bearer” himself appoints his
    successor, Weber says. There was an element of this when Bill
    Clinton backed his wife Hillary as a candidate; and even more
    when Edward Kennedy, the charisma-bearer of a whole dynasty,
    endorsed Barack Obama.
    It is certainly helpful for the prestige of The United States that
    Obama, at a moment when the “mystique of power” is
    punctured in the realms of military capacity and the economy
    (to quote Steve Clemons) is a charismatic president. We will see
    how he balances his enormous power and his charisma with the
    “expressed or assumed will of the voters” (we`ve already got a
    glimpse into that) and the rule of law (we´ve got some glimpses
    into that as well). And we`ll see how long his charisma remains
    intact during the overwhelming challenges ahead.


  18. Steve Clemons says:

    Greetings Paul — and thanks for noticing! I probably had it in
    mind in part because of our earlier exchange about ‘mystique’ and
    whether it does reflect some kind of embedded arrogance in
    American’s perceptions of themselves and their role in the world.
    But in this case, I do think that Obama’s posture can be captivating
    — as can the posture of other world leaders….so perhaps that is a
    better word than ‘mystique.’ Maybe aura? but you do get to the
    larger point that I see a separation and gap between optics and
    substance — or tatemae and honne — to use the Japanese terms.
    And I feel like this is a time when getting some of the optics right
    has substantive benefit. best, steve


  19. Paul Norheim says:

    I noticed that you used the term “mystique” in this interview as
    well (I`m not criticizing the fact that you did so!), related to US
    power and as well as Obama as a person.
    What about an analysis of this abrupt transformation in US
    history, where the mystique of US military and economic power
    was replaced by the charisma of an American president? It´s an
    interesting subject, and can lead to very different conclusions,
    depending on the interpreter.
    I would like to see your take on this, Steve.
    The opinions and perspectives of other commenters at TWN
    would be interesting as well.


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