Until recently, Cynthia Nixon was best known for playing Miranda on the HBO series Sex and the City and its big-screen movie spinoffs. Of the four women who were the main characters, Miranda was the sensible one. She was a serious-minded lawyer and, unlike her three friends, she didn’t fall instantly into bed with every guy who made a pass at her.
Though we may know better, we often think of famous actors as being more or less like the people they play. You could be forgiven, then, for assuming that Nixon is, in real life, a brainy, level-headed type. In recent months, however, Nixon has appeared to be on a one-woman mission to prove otherwise.
As a candidate for governor of New York State who is challenging the Democratic incumbent, Andrew Cuomo, from the left, Nixon has, not to put too fine a point on it, demonstrated to all and sundry that she is a world-class pinhead. On July 10, Politico published a statement by Nixon in which she admitted to being, in her own words, a “democratic socialist.”
“Some more establishment, corporate Democrats get very scared by this term but if being a democratic socialist means that you believe health care, housing, education and the things we need to thrive should be a basic right not a privilege then count me in,” Nixon wrote. “As Martin Luther King put it, call it democracy or call it democratic socialism but we have to have a better distribution of wealth in this country. I have long stood in support of a millionaires tax, Medicare for all, fully funding our public schools, housing for all and rejecting all corporation donations — all of which align with democratic socialist principles.”
Nixon’s campaign confirmed that she wasn’t using her words lightly. Her handlers had been in touch with the Democratic Socialists of America. She feels that socialism is on the rise in America and, especially, in the Democratic Party – and she thinks it’s a terrific development. Marc Molinaro, the GOP candidate for New York governor, had a pointed response to that: “Millionaires like Cynthia Nixon may be able to dream about socialist paradises, but here in the real world, people can’t afford the taxes they have,” Molinaro said. “If Ms. Nixon thinks socialism is the answer, she should ask the people of Venezuela.”
The belief that primitive peoples are naturally endowed with goodness and purity, and that civilization poisons these attributes, is as old as civilization itself. The idea is embodied in the term “noble savage,” which first appeared in a 1672 play by John Dryden. The Enlightenment philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-78), whose views helped shape modern Western thought, routinely sang the praises of primeval man, untainted by what he saw as the decadence of civilization. During the Romantic Era of the late 1700s and early 1800s, authors, poets, and painters all over Europe depicted in an idealized way the lives of unlettered, uneducated men whom they saw not only as living in nature but as partsof nature themselves, as pure as the country air they breathed or the unpolluted streams from which they drank.
Back then, many a European aristocrat embraced romantic images of the native peoples of the Americas, Asia, and Africa; more recently, authors like Kirkpatrick Sale, in books like Sale’s The Conquest of Paradise: Christopher Columbus and the Columbian Legacy (1990), have proffered the puerile fantasy that before European voyagers found their way to what they arrogantly called the New World, the natives led lives of peace and harmony, enjoying a rare bliss that the newcomers replaced with cruelty and destruction.
Plainly, this is a mentality that was much in evidence at the Leonard Bernstein party immortalized by Tom Wolfe in his essay “Radical Chic.” For Bernstein and many of the moneyed celebrity friends whom he invited to his home on the evening of January 14, 1970, the Black Panthers who were the party’s special guests were just that – noble savages. It was an offensive attitude, a racist attitude, a patronizing attitude – an attitude, in fact, that enabled them to belittle the very real danger that the Panthers obviously represented. In his essay, Wolfe quotes a “Park Avenue matron” who, at one of the pre-Bernstein “Radical Chic” parties, exclaimed about the Panthers: “These are no civil-rights Negroes wearing gray suits three sizes too big—these are real men!”
In other words, they weren’t drab, dull, law-abiding middle-class blacks – they were real-life noble savages, embracing their nobility and their savagery! Such views on the part of Bernstein’s movers and shakers, needless to say, represent prejudice at its ugliest – prejudice dressed up as sensitivity and tolerance.
Among the Black Panthers who attended the Bernsteins’ fête that night were Robert Bay, who only a couple of days earlier had been arrested in Queens on a gun charge; Don Cox, the group’s Oakland-based “Field Marshall,” Henry Miller, its “defense captain,” and Ray “Masai” Hewitt, its Minister of Education and a member of its Central Committee.
Also present was lawyer Leon Quat, who at the moment was busy defending no fewer than twenty-one Black Panthers who, as Wolfe noted, “had been arrested on a charge of conspiring to blow up five New York department stores, New Haven Railroad facilities, a police station and the Bronx Botanical Gardens.”
Mingling with these criminals in the Bernsteins’ thirteen-room Park Avenue duplex were such nabobs as high-society bandleader Peter Duchin, CBS president Frank Stanton, popular songwriters Sheldon Harnick (Fiddler on the Roof) and Burton Lane (Finian’s Rainbow), New York Review of Books editor Robert Silvers, and the wives of such eminences as chic photographer Richard Avedon, film director Arthur Penn, and singer Harry Belafonte. Wolfe quoted Cheray Duchin, spouse of the bandleader, as telling society columnist Charlotte Curtis, who would break the story of the party in the next day’s New York Times: “I’ve never met a Panther—this is a first for me!”
In a recent series of posts, we explored the puzzlement that is Mark Weisbrot, an American economist who – for reasons either ideological or pecuniary, or both – has persisted in lauding the socialist economic policies of Venezuela and Argentina, even as those policies have dragged those countries’ economies into the mire.
Another commentator who’s taken the same line on the same topics is David Sirota. Who? Born in 1975, Sirota has worked as a left-wing radio host, a contributor to Salon and The Nation, and a political operative for a long list of Democratic politicians, centers, foundations, and the like. Among his career highlights are stints as a spokesman for Bernie Sanders and as a fellow at the Center for American Progress, a left-wing spin machine. In 2003, Newsweek described him as “well schooled in the art of Washington warfare.” A New York Times review of his 2006 book Hostile Takeover said Sirota possessed “a take-no-prisoners mind-set” toward Republicans and centrists. Election handicapper Nate Silver has accused Sirota of “playing fast and loose with the truth.”
In the immediate aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings, Sirota gained plenty of media attention with a Salon articleheadlined “Let’s Hope the Boston Marathon Bomber Is a White American.” Why should we have such hopes? Because of “the dynamics of privilege.” Sirota explained: when members of unprivileged religious or ethnic groups commit mass shootings, the groups they belong to are “collectively slandered and/or targeted with surveillance or profiling (or worse).” Not so “white dudes,” who, when they commit mass shootings, are treated as “lone wolf” types. The word jihad, of course, did not appear anywhere in Sirota’s article; to recognize that religious identity tends to be a highly relevant detail in acts of terror committed by Muslims is to violate the kind of reality-challenged political correctness for which Sirota (like Salon) stands. Islam expert Robert Spencer called Sirota’s piece “appallingly stupid”; Greg Gutfeld of Fox News wonderedaloud if, in hoping that the terrorist attack in Boston had been committed by a white American, Sirota had meant white Americans “like the Occupy Wall Streeters on trial in Cincinnati? Or Bill Ayers, the nutty professor?”
Sirota is, then, a creep and a clown on a number of fronts. But for now, we’re concerned about his views on Latin American economies. In March 2013, he actually published a piece – once again in Salon – entitled “Hugo Chavez’s economic miracle.” Sirota began with a sneer: for a long time, Americans of certain political persuasions had treated Hugo Chávez as “a boogeyman synonymous with extremism,” made him the subject of “over-the-top political rhetoric,” acted as if he was a “radical.” While making the pro forma acknowledgment that “Chavez was no saint,” for example on “human rights and basic democratic freedoms,” Sirota was quick to make the leap into moral equivalency (America, he proposed, had recently been guilty of “drone assaults, civil liberties abuses, and [a] war on voting”) and to accuse Chávez’s critics of hypocrisy (“it is not as if [America’s] political establishment sees an assault on democratic freedoms as deplorable”).
No, Sirota insisted: what made Chávez “the bugaboo of American politics” was not the badaspects of his record, but the good ones – namely, the “indisputably positive results” of his economic policies, which, for the American establishment, raised uncomfortable questions about, say, the wisdom of nationalization and of aggressive income redistribution. But now that Venezuela’s economic success was so utterly undeniable, America had to stop demonizing “everyone from Martin Luther King to Michael Moore to Oliver Stone to anyone else who dares question neoliberalism and economic imperialism.”
Quick note: MLK has a national bank holiday; Moore and Stone have won Oscars. So much for “demonizing.” Anyway, that was Sirota in 2013. And since? We’ll get to that tomorrow.
America’s new opening to Cuba should not blind us to the cruel history of the Castro era. We should not forget the human-rights heroes who have suffered in Castro’s prisons and spoken out internationally about his tyranny. Nor should we forget those prominent figures in the West who have betrayed the cause of freedom by befriending, defending, and brown-nosing Castro over the decades.
Take, for example, Gabriel García Márquez. During his lifetime, he was probably the most honored and most famous author in the Spanish-speaking world. He deserved immense respect for his writings: his novel One Hundred Years of Solitude is a beautiful piece of work, a true masterpiece. After his death in April 2014, however, he was celebrated by left-wing media around the world not only as a literary genius but as a great humanitarian, a sort of world-class hero of the human spirit. Recently, on the Oscar telecast, he was included in the “In Memoriam” segment alongside the likes of actors Mickey Rooney and Eli Wallach, presumably on the basis of his handful of obscure Spanish-language screenplays.
Only a few dissident voices dared breathe the ugly truth.
Armando Valladares, who described his years as a prisoner of conscience under Castro in the book Against All Hope, wrote after García Márquez’s death that the Colombian novelist had “put his pen at the service of Fidel Castro’s tyranny, supporting torture, the concentration camps, and the murdering by firing squad of whoever dared to oppose the Communist regime. García Márquez used to say that the only country in the Americas that respected human rights was Cuba.”
García Márquez, recalled Valladares, “lived in a ‘House of Protocol’ with Blanquita, his teenage lover….The Nobel winner had a white Mercedes Benz, another gift from his friend Fidel Castro, and privileges in exchange for defending Castro’s dictatorship, all while he rent his robes denouncing Pinochet.”
Valladares’s gravest revelation was that García Márquez was “an informer for Castro’s political police” – in other words, a snitch, a fink, a double-crosser. Valladares cited the case of Cuban dissident Ricardo Bofill, who, during a visit by García Márquez to Havana, entrusted him with “documents relating to several Cuban artists.” Shortly thereafter, Bofill was arrested – and “displayed on the table right next to Castro’s secret-policeman…were the very documents which Bofill had given García Márquez.”
Bofill, whom Cuban emigré Humberto Fontova describes as “a peaceful human-rights activist inspired by Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.,” ended up spending “12 years in Castro’s prisons—thanks to Gabriel García Márquez.” In 1968, two major Spanish newspapers, ABC and Diario 16, reported on this betrayal, and stated flatly that García Márquez had informed on several Cuban writers and artists, whose trust in him – as a colleague who they assumed would agitate for their human rights – landed them in prison.
“Some of his friends and defenders have said that García Márquez interceded for my freedom,” wrote Valladares. “This is absolutely untrue — a complete falsehood. I have enough moral honesty (which he did not) to have accepted the story if it had been true. This version was a maneuver of his buddies to capitalize on the international sympathy that produced my release; they used this sympathy on his behalf. What he did was use the Nobel Prize ceremony to repeat accusations of Castro against me, which prompted a strong critical letter from the French PEN Club, into which I had been adopted as an honorary member.”
Fontova noted that Castro provided García Márquez with “a (stolen) mansion…where he frolicked with adolescent girls” and with “a (stolen) Mercedes” in which he tooled around the crumbling city of Havana. Fontova also cited Before Night Falls, the autobiography of gay Cuban writer Reynaldo Arenas, who “was jailed and tortured by Castro’s police for his rebellious writings and gay lifestyle” before finally escaping to the U.S. in 1980. Two years later, Arenas described García Márquez as an “unscrupulous propagandist for totalitarianism.”
Then there’s Cuban author and emigré Roberto Luque Escalona, a sometime Amnesty International prisoner of conscience, who said of García Márquez that
Only a five star-scoundrel would put his literary fame in the service of a cause as vile and malignant as the Castro tyranny. Simple frivolity cannot possibly justify an embrace so long and strong as the one Garcia-Marquez gave someone who devastated a nation, murdered thousands, jailed and tortured tens of thousands dispersed an entire nation and debased the rest.
A fellow Latin American novelist who is not only a gifted artist but a morally admirable human being, the Peruvian author Mario Vargas Llosa, has described García Márquez as Castro’s “courtesan.” But in fact he was only one of several international cultural figures who were, or are, “courtesans” in Castro’s harem. We’ll look at a few more of them next time.