Bozell Column: 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 liberal 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 liberal 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 liberal 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 liberal 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 conservatives still seek to defend both democracy and American interests, liberals are still fawning over communist and terrorist thugs. May our legacy be to tell the truth as it was Jeane Kirkpatrick’s.

Brent Bozell
Brent Bozell
Brent Bozell is the Founder and President of the Media Research Center