We hardly needed his latest blunder – publicly musing about the wisdom of assassinating Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez – to remind us that Pat Robertson is a fool and a liability to the conservative cause. (And proof that a good resume is no substitute for good judgment: among Robertson’s attainments, in addition to his ministry, he is a graduate of Yale Law School and a combat veteran as a Marine in the Korean War).
What’s so grating about this remark is that Robertson is a man of God, and as such ought to be much more careful about indulging speculation about resorting to violence than the average public figure. Assassinating tyrants may well be morally justifiable, but if a man of the cloth can’t at least offer caution and restraint on our impulses in that direction, he’s really not doing Jesus or His followers any favors.
And in that regard, this is considerably more problematic than just praying for the Lord to engage in some Old Testament-style smiting of Chavez. That, after all, is the distinction I find so troubling about many Muslim leaders; as I’ve written before:
I have no problem with people who believe that God is going to send me to Hell for being a Catholic. They believe their thing, and I believe mine. I have a major problem with people who think that they, rather than God Himself, should send me there.
(More on related topics here, here and here).
Of course, unlike many of the pronouncements of radical mullahs, nobody can seriously believe that anyone will threaten the life of Chavez as a result of Robertson’s statement, so it’s not really comparable in terms of the direct mischief caused. Instead, what’s much more damaging about Robertson is simply that it gives Chavez, who like most tyrants thrives on his self-arrogated role as a victim of American plots, an excuse to further consolidate his power and spread yet more anti-American propaganda in Latin America. Thanks, Pat. You’ve given the real bad guys ammunition just as much as Dick Durbin ever did.
Finally, two last notes:
*Predictably, there was no such hue and cry when George Stephanopolous called for assassinating Saddam in 1997. (Via Wizbang). But in fairness, the situations were not the same. Chavez was orignally democratically elected, and while his re-election was likely the result of violent intimidation and outright fraud, he has considerably more plausible claims to some sort of legitimacy than Saddam did. Also, by 1997 we’d been to war with Saddam once, and appeared to be on the eve of war with him again as part of his decade-long failure to comply with the terms of the cease-fire; he’d tried to assassinate a former US president himself, he was openly paying terrorists in Israel, he’d been to war with Kuwait and Iran and bombed Israel and Saudi Arabia, he’d used chemical weapons in battle and against his own people . . . you know the drill. Chavez has made all sorts of trouble and promises more to come, but he doesn’t (yet) have the kind of rap sheet Saddam did as far as putting himself beyond the pale of even the kind of conduct we have wearily grown to expect from rogue states, let alone civilized nations.
*Byron York argues that Robertson isn’t as irrelevant to conservatism as some commentators make him out to be. Although he may in some ways be right, I find York’s argument a bit unconvincing, as all he really points to is Robertson’s TV ratings, and not everyone who still watches his show necessarily takes his political meanderings all that seriously.