To be imperfectly their own or imperfectly ours

We all might have assumed that Sean has been busy making the movie Milk (which I hope to see over the weekend). But I just learned that he recently paid a visit to both Hugo Chavez and Raul Castro because he’s written about it in The Nation Magazine. And before I say anything more about this particular piece, I’d like to state that Mr. Penn is an amazing writer! So I urge you to go check out the whole thing.

Here’s an introductory video from The Nation (my title comes from here).

Sean didn’t go to these interviews alone. He took Douglas Brinkley and Christopher Hitchens with him. Here’s how he explains.

By this time I had come to say to friends in private, “It’s true, Chávez may not be a good man. But he may well be a great one.”

Among those to whom I said this were historian Douglas Brinkley and Vanity Fair columnist Christopher Hitchens. These two were perfect complements. Brinkley is a notably steady thinker whose historian’s code of ethics assures adherence to supremely reasoned evidence. Hitchens, a wily wordsmith, ever too unpredictable for predisposition, is a wild card by any measure who in a talk-show throwaway once referred to Chávez as an “oil-rich clown.” Though I believe Hitchens to be as principled as he is brilliant, he can be combative to the point of bullying, as he once was in severe comments made about saintly antiwar activist Cindy Sheehan. Brinkley and Hitchens would balance any perceived bias in my writing. Also, these are a couple of guys I have a lot of fun with and affection for.

According to the article Brinkley is doing a piece on this for CBS News and Hitchens for Vanity Fair. I don’t see that either news organization has published anything yet.

Perhaps the most surprising part of the Chavez interview for me is when Hitchens asks him, “What’s the difference between you and Castro?” Here’s part of his answer.

“You see,” Chávez says, “Venezuela must have democratic socialism. Castro has been a teacher for me. A master. Not on ideology but on strategy.” Perhaps ironically, John F. Kennedy is Chávez’s favorite US president. “I was a boy,” he says. “Kennedy was the driving force of reform in America.” Surprised by Chávez’s affinity for Kennedy, Hitch chimes in, referring to Kennedy’s counter-Cuba economic plan for Latin America: “The Alliance for Progress was a good thing?” “Yes,” says Chávez. “The Alliance for Progress was a political proposal to improve conditions. It was aimed at lowering the social difference between cultures.”

Here’s just one small bit from Penn’s interview with Raul Castro. It obviously took place before the US elections and Penn has asked Castro several times if he will meet with Obama if he is elected President.

With our dinner finished, I walk with the president through the sliding glass doors onto a greenhouse-like terrace with tropical plants and birds. As we sip more wine, he says, “There is an American movie–the elite are sitting around a table, trying to decide who will be their next president. They look outside the window, where they see the gardener. Do you know the movie I’m talking about?” “Being There,” I say. “Yes!” Castro responds excitedly, “Being There. I like this movie very much. With the United States, every objective possibility exists. The Chinese say: ‘On the longest path, you start with the first step.’ The US president should take this step on his own, but with no threat to our sovereignty. That is not negotiable. We can make demands without telling each other what to do within our borders.”

Penn writes a postscript at the end that’s a bit OT. But I loved it and hope he makes the film someday.

I sat on the edge of my bed with my wife, son and daughter, tears streaming down my face, as Barack Obama spoke for the first time as the president-elect of the United States of America. I closed my eyes and started to see a film in my head. I could hear the music too, appropriately the Dixie Chicks covering a Fleetwood Mac song over slow-motion images in montage. There they were: Bush, Hannity, Cheney, McCain, Limbaugh and Robertson. I saw them all. And the song was rising as the image of Sarah Palin took over the screen. Natalie Maines sweetly sang,

And I saw my reflection in the snow-covered hills

till the landslide brought me down.

Landslide brought me down…



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  1. I am so tired of ideological demonizing replete with contending ‘isms’. I will always have a soft spot for Chavez, for his Bush remark at the UN ‘I smell sulfur’. It cheered up me for days. One of the reasons I supported Obama was during the debates when he advocated talking to our adversaries. I found it interesting that he did not call them enemies. I truly hope he is able to have a sane foreign policy that doesn’t insist on spreading the three C’s. Capitalism, Christianity and Civilization, Empire as a holy crusade. Democratic socialism sounds like something I could work for. It’s not the ideology but the power wielders I worry about. Christopher Hitchens has a lot of nerve calling anyone a clown, or maybe it takes one to know one.    

    • kj on November 28, 2008 at 21:31
    • kj on November 28, 2008 at 21:36

    from the last quote, to a conversation with Edger on Buhdy’s essay Redefining “The Bad Guys”  

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