REVIEW May 1, 2000 Issue
Still Useful, and Idiotic
The Left remains itself.
By John Derbyshire, NR contributing editor
he sad, depressing affair of Elián González has brought to light the following unpleasant truth, among many others: that so long as Communism is with us, so also will be the Useful Idiots—those members of Western intellectual elites who can find nothing bad to say about the totalitarian order.
Useful Idiocy has a long and ignoble pedigree. Studying at Cambridge immediately after the Russian Revolution, Vladimir Nabokov was dismayed to find a majority of his classmates pro-Bolshevik. Ten years later Sidney and Beatrice Webb were asking: “Soviet Commmunism: A New Civilization?” They dropped the question mark in the book’s second edition. Seven more years finds Ambassador Joseph E. Davies purring over the “exceedingly wise and gentle” Stalin. Fast-forward another 20 years to Han Suyin extolling Mao Tse-tung’s new society of justice and fair rations for all. On to the Seventies, with Graham Greene asserting that, if forced to choose between living in the U.S.A. or the U.S.S.R., he would “of course” choose the latter. (The old fraud actually lived on the French Riviera.) On, on into the 1980s, when Socialist Man was being created in Nicaragua, and New York poets and Wisconsin schoolteachers were flocking there to breathe the pure air of liberation.
We might reasonably have expected that with the demise of the U.S.S.R. the Useful Idiots would have shut down their operations, even if they could not bring themselves to actually apologize for having shilled for the most monstrous tyrannies in human history. Not a bit of it. As Mick Jagger said in a different context: They don’t embarrass easy. True, the U.S.S.R. is one with Nineveh and Tyre; and China’s “socialism with Chinese characteristics” bears a resemblance to mercantilist fascism too close for even the Left to ignore. Never mind: There is still Cuba, and there is still Fidel.
So here they come, emerging from the caves and thickets, the newsrooms and poli-sci departments where they have been sulking silently these past eleven years. Here is Eleanor Clift on The McLaughlin Group: “Being a poor child in Cuba is probably better than being a poor child in Miami.” Here is Bob Herbert in the New York Times telling us that “the boy has a father who wants him in Cuba.” How does Mr. Herbert know that, since the father has never been in a position to speak freely about what he wants? Here is Richard Cohen in the Washington Post asserting that “Juan Miguel [has behaved like] a typical father.” Speaking as a father of, I hope, a fairly typical strain, I would not have waited four months to go to my boy after learning he had been rescued at sea; nor, once embarked, would I have proceeded to a different city from the one my son was in, to beg a bunch of government bureaucrats to carry out my responsibilities for me while I stayed in a diplomatic safe house surrounded by secret-police goons. Sr. González has a gun at his head, and I do not blame him for his actions; but to say that they are those of a “typical father” is preposterous.
The most emetic pieces of Useful Idiocy to appear so far in this context have been Douglas Montero’s columns from Cuba in the New York Post. In one of them, under the headline “It’s as simple as a father picking up his son,” Montero launched into a rhapsodic antithesis between the “simple man” (Juan González) and the “powerful man” (Fidel Castro) as they parted at Havana’s airport. The piece bears quoting at length as evidence that the sentimental idealization of Leninist thugs is not yet a dead art.
“The powerful man shook the simple man’s right hand and gently clapped him on the shoulder as if he were a son going away to college.
“Castro stepped to the side and humbly lowered his head as he extended his right arm toward the simple man’s family.”
There is a good deal of embracing. Then the powerful man walks slowly toward reporters, “seeming for a moment to choke on the words he was about to utter. . . . The tears welling in his eyes glistened under the lights of the television cameras.”
El Jefe Máximo managed to master himself sufficiently to speak to those reporters for nearly an hour.
Next we get a glimpse of the relatives—Sr. González’s mother, father-in-law and two mothers-in-law—who are staying behind in Cuba so Castro will have someone to shoot if the poor sap defects. “‘I’m not afraid because I know that the Lord is on our side,’ Quintana [the mother] said sadly but firmly.” And somewhat ambiguously, one cannot help thinking. Meanwhile:
“Several yards away another powerful man spoke.
“Ricardo Alarcon, president of Cuba’s National Assembly [you don’t get much more powerful than that!], chief Elián negotiator and González’s advisor—explaining why González might have to stay in the U.S. for a while—said the U.S. government has to first ‘liberate’ Elián from the clutches of his Miami relatives.”
Clutches? What were those relatives supposed to do with the boy? Throw him back into the ocean? But never fear: The U.S. government—previously known as the Bloodstained Yanqui Oppressor in official Cuban pronouncements—can be depended on to do the right thing.
“In Washington, the most powerful man in this country merely said he’s satisfied with Attorney General Janet Reno’s handling of the matter: ‘She really understands what’s going on,’ President Clinton said.”
You bet she does. But let us hope that she was at least sufficiently chastened by the consequences of her Waco child-rescue strategy that subsequent developments in the González affair will not feature any tanks or flamethrowers.
A close runner-up in the Norman Mailer challenge cup for tongue-polishing Castro’s boots (back in the Seventies, if memory serves, a swooning Mr. Mailer compared the comandante to an erect penis) is Michael Moore, the faux-populist lefty who made a movie called Roger and Me to expose the wickedness of General Motors in particular and capitalism in general. In an open “letter of apology” to Elián, Moore explained that Elián’s mother was not trying to bring the boy to freedom when she died. The ghastly truth is, “your mother and her boyfriend snatched you and put you on that death boat because they simply wanted to make more money.” Setting aside Mr. Moore’s heartless impertinence in pretending to know the motives of two people now dead; and setting aside also the word “snatched,” which is a parroting of the Castro propaganda line unsupported by any facts; the gist of Roger and Me, as I recall, was that Roger Smith, the CEO of General Motors, by closing plants and laying off workers, was preventing those workers from . . . making more money. Poverty is a bad thing in Flint, Michigan, apparently; but it is just fine in Havana.
After some blather about Cuba having 100 percent literacy and rock-bottom infant mortality, as if Cuban government statistics were worth the low-grade paper they are printed on, we get this: “Your mother placed you in a situation where you were certain to die on the open seas . . . and that is unconscionable.” Unconscionable? How about “desperate”? And if the boy’s death was “certain,” he would now be dead, wouldn’t he? Moore continues: “It was the ultimate form of child abuse.” Ah, child abuse! Send for Janet Reno!
There are, of course, plenty of other Michael Moores and Douglas Monteros. Every time I turn on my TV, every time I pick up a newspaper, I see a new one. It’s like a Night of the Living Dead—lefties coming up out of the ground and lurching off across the landscape looking for a Maximum Leader, a Great Helmsman, a Little Father of the People to slobber over. With the centenary of Lenin’s revolution looming on the far horizon, and after all the horrors of our age—mountains of corpses, oceans of lies—these fools are still with us. Wherever there is a jackboot stomping on a human face there will be a well-heeled Western liberal to explain that the face does, after all, enjoy free health care and 100 percent literacy. Won’t they ever learn? No, their stupidity is impenetrable. They will never learn.