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Chavez Draws on Age-Old Smears to Hold on to Power

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As soon as Henrique Capriles won a primary to become the candidate of the democratic opposition against Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez, the Wall Street Journal reported that he

was vilified in a campaign in Venezuela's state-run media, which insinuated he was, among other things, a homosexual and a Zionist agent.

Homosexual and Jewish, I thought. When they attack him for being rich, they'll have the trifecta of populist prejudices.

And sure enough, they did. Chavez himself declared:

The bourgeoisie have their candidate -- the candidate of the anti-fatherland, of capitalism, of the Yankees. We are going to thrash that bourgeoisie.

Capriles, a Catholic, is in fact the grandson of Polish Jewish immigrants who survived the Warsaw Ghetto. Reuters describes his politics this way:

Though from a wealthy family, Capriles, the 39-year-old state governor of Miranda province, describes himself as a center-left "progressive" and spends more time in shanty-towns than in his office.... Capriles is an admirer of Brazil's "modern left" model of free-market economics with a strong social conscience.

Chavez, of course, also threw in "the candidate of the Yankees," that is, the Americans. All of these epithets -- homosexual, Jewish, bourgeoisie, and more recently, "American" -- have been staples of illiberal rhetoric for centuries. Liberals -- advocates of democracy, free speech, religious freedom, and market freedoms -- have been tarred as "cosmopolitan" and somehow alien to the people, the Volk, the faithful, the fatherland, the heartland.

German democrats used to say that "anti-semitism is the socialism of fools." Now in many countries we could say that anti-Americanism is the new anti-semitism. They're often found in tandem.

Liberals should denounce these sorts of vile and illiberal attacks, whether they stem from the American far right or far left, Vladimir Putin, the ruling party in Malaysia, or Hugo Chavez.