From an Associated Press dispatch last Monday:
"The American singer and activist Harry Belafonte called President George W. Bush 'the greatest terrorist in the
world' yesterday and said millions of Americans support the socialist revolution of Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez."
The report noted that "Belafonte led a delegation of Americans, including the actor Danny Glover and the Princeton
University scholar Cornel West, that met with the Venezuelan president for more than six hours late Saturday." At the meeting,
Belafonte referred to the U.S. President as the "greatest tyrant in the world."
Chavez is viewed in Venezuela as an enemy of the middle class, who have tried to remove him from office by coup and
election and failed each time. Many view his authoritarianism as akin to that of the late Juan Peron of Argentina. Chavez
actively supports the governments of Iran, North Korea and Cuba, and he has made it clear that he is extremely hostile to the
U.S. government and particularly toward President George W. Bush. He has said, "Iran and Venezuela, these two brothers,
are and will be together forever. Iran, confronted by the United States, has our solidarity."
Belafonte has every right to support Chavez. He also has every right to denounce and demean President Bush. But
our country is currently at war with international terrorism, and self-restraint is in order. Belafonte and other critics of the
president and U.S. policy have obligations as U.S. citizens receiving its protection.
Historically during wartime, there are societal self-imposed limits on what critics can or should say in voicing their
disagreements with the president. Telling the truth and not slandering the president is surely one restraint. Can Belafonte
honestly and rationally refer to George W. Bush as "the greatest tyrant in the world" and "the greatest terrorist in the world?"
Because of his immense talents as a singer, Belafonte is known in many countries. He is also a United Nations
UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, and his comments are listened to around the world. Does he really want Saddam Hussein's
supporters in Iraq, who use car bombs and suicide bombers to murder fellow Iraqi civilians, to justify their actions with his
characterizations of President Bush? Similarly, does he want the leaders of Iran and North Korea, who are threatening the
world with the use of nuclear weaponry, to cite his slanderous words in defense of their threats? How does Belafonte respond
to statements by al-Qaeda leaders such as Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi who said, "Killing the infidels is our religion, slaughtering
them is our religion, until they convert to Islam or pay us tribute?"
Harry Belafonte is widely associated with the Democratic Party, and leaders in the Party use him and his musical
talents on many occasions for fundraising events. After I read his comments, I expected some Democratic Party leaders to
denounce him publicly and distance the Party from his slanderous remarks. As far as I know, no one has done so.
Thus far I believe only the Daily News has denounced Belafonte. In its January 14th editorial the News said, "At this
point, Harry really shouldn't be permitted even to wander the grounds of a nursing home without close caregiver supervision so
he does not amble away or fall down and hurt himself." The New York Post has published letters from readers criticizing
Belafonte is not suffering from dementia. He knows exactly what he is saying. The impact of his words is enhanced
when no one in the Democratic leadership denounces him. The country's security and its fate are more important than partisan
advantage. Criticism of the president and his policies is not only to be expected but is to be encouraged in debate. But
respect and deference for the office of the president is surely extremely important, and to be expected from political and
cultural leaders in our country.
The expectation that Democrats would take back the House, Senate or both in this year's general election diminishes
with each passing day, and it is not difficult to understand why. The American public does not want to see the president
demeaned or humbled before the world. They expect and demand that simple courtesy be afforded that office. In philosophy,
the country is much closer to George W. Bush than it is to Ted Kennedy. A sane and wise voice is that of liberal
Congressman Rahm Emanuel (D-IL)who in response to the recent Alito confirmation hearings said, "George Bush won the
election. If you don't like it, you better win elections." In his simple and direct statement, he is absolutely right. In a
commercial for brokerage firm Smith Barney, John Houseman once said, "They make money the old fashioned way…they
earn it." George W. Bush was reelected the old fashioned way…he earned it through hard work and on the merits.
In my opinion, the Democratic Party is head and shoulders better for the country than the Republican Party on so many
issues, e.g., tax reductions (on who gets the major benefit); social security (the people immediately saw through the president's
privatizing scheme); comprehensive national medical insurance (denied to the people by the Republicans at every opportunity);
prescription drugs (the public knows that the new law is a sick joke); and on so many others issues.
The failure of John Kerry early on in his presidential campaign to denounce Whoopi Goldberg for her use of vile and
obscene attacks on President Bush at Kerry's Radio City Music Hall fundraiser presaged his ultimate defeat. Why? Because
it showed he was unable to stand up and denounce those who engage in conduct unacceptable to the American public, for fear
of losing a single vote.
In the words of Pete Seeger, "Oh, when will they ever learn? Oh, when will they ever learn?"