“As something of an expert in ‘pure excrement’, I can confidently say…”

Non-news doesn’t get any more non-newsy than Chávez’s blanket dismissal of OAS’s extensively researched, carefully drafted 300-page report on Democracy and Human Rights in Venezuela as "pure excrement." This kind of non-response response, which olympically skips over the whole sordid business of, y’know, acknowledging the existence of specific allegations, facing them forthrightly and coming up with some form of minimally reasoned defense of the government’s actions has been the government’s rhetorical bread and butter from the moment Chávez reached power. Dog-bites-man gets no dog-bites-mannier than this. 

The government’s disqualify-deny-refuse-to-engage reflex is so well developed by now, we’ve sort of lost track of how grave it is for the possibility of establishing some kind of reasonable debate in a halfway vibrant public sphere. Every important conversation on every important public issue in Venezuela has been indefinitely postponed through the use of this expedient. 

So, to take just the single issue I consider most lethal to the possibility of real constitutional democracy, lets think through this stuff with political interference with the judges. Is Chávez denying that 137 judges actually have been dismissed or had their appointments revoked since 2008? Is he denying any judges have been? Or is he accepting that but intending that that’s not problematic for some reason? Is he denying that the government yanks people from the bench without so much as publishing the reason for it? Or is he accepting that but intending to arguing that this is an appropriate way to manage a court system? Or is it some other possibility I haven’t thought of?

We don’t know – and you don’t either – because the government does not, will not, refuses to engage this debate…or any other debate that isn’t premised on slavish obedience to the autocrat’s line. 

This fundamental rejection, as a matter of principle, of the notion that a government’s actions ought to be publicly accounted for on rational grounds is the crux of chavismo’s galloping authoritarianism. That a government managed in this way can only fail seems to me self-evident: the government systematically cuts itself off from the chief mechanisms modern states have for being made aware of the mistakes they’re making and correcting them.

That, in the end, is what public reason is for. Reject it on principle and you guaranteed to screw up again and again.