Back in the days of the Russian Revolution, Vladimir Lenin referred to sympathetic foreigners as “useful idiots.” Their modern counterparts, said Anne Applebaum, can be found today in Venezuela, where leftist president Hugo Chavez has been basking in the glow of various entertainment celebrities from the U.S. Most recently, supermodel Naomi Campbell came
a-calling, gushing about the “love and encouragement” Chavez gives to welfare programs. Actor Sean Penn recently spent an entire day getting a tour from Chavez before pronouncing Venezuela “a great country.” Neither Penn nor Campbell, nor a host of earlier lefty Hollywood visitors, seems to be troubled by Chavez’s penchant for harassing opposition leaders and the media, or his plan to change the country’s constitution so he can keep the presidency indefinitely. It’s an old story: Intellectuals and celebrities are always on the lookout for a revolutionary enemy of the U.S. to “idealize,” whether it’s the Soviet Union, Nicaragua, or Cuba. Today, Venezuela takes the prize. Chavez may be an anti-democratic thug, but he hates George W. Bush and takes the time to make simple-minded renegades like Penn feel important. For a celebrity who lives “in an annoyingly unrevolutionary country” like the U.S., that, apparently, is enough.