During Condoleeza Rice's confirmation hearing today, Senator Lincoln Chafee (R, RI) asked her about her attitude toward Venezuela. She said something to the effect that their government is moving in a disturbing direction and is making things difficult for good relations between the U.S. and Venezuela. That sounds accurate to me. Then he acted as if she had just slandered the people of Venezuela, and she made it clear that this was about policy and not the people. I think she even used the word 'affection' to describe here attitude toward the people of Venezuela. His response was to point out that they just had an election, in which the people confirmed the current government by re-electing them. Thus he concluded that her comments that their government's direction is disturbing is a slander against the people of Venezuela. This just seems wrong to me.
Isn't it possible to wish that the people of Venezuela had not engaged in such self-destructive behavior by confirming the current government, just as many Democrats (Chafee's ideological allies, though not his actual party) say the same about Bush? If so, then how are her comments about the Venezuelan government degrading to the people of Venezuela, as he insisted a number of times in his questions to her? In fact, if Rice were not to say what she's been saying, wouldn't it be a refusal to criticize a government that really needs to be criticized? It's one thing to recognize that the government is legitimate. As far as I know, they are. It's quite another to recognize their actions as good. She will not do that, and she's right not to.
To act as if she's seeing the government as illegitimate, as if she's not recognizing the election they just had, seems to misunderstand what she's even saying and is as much a twisting of her words as what I'm happy to say I missed Barbara Boxer (D, CA) doing to Rice earlier. At least this time, it was the right subject matter. I'm glad I wasn't in RI anymore when this guy was running for the Senate, because I would have had a hard choice. Bob Weygand, the Democrat running against Chafee, would have been a much better senator on almost every measure. It was just a such a close Senate that it would have been hard to vote my conscience. I'm glad I didn't have to make the choice.
Update: The New York Times transcript for Chafee's comments begins here. Now that I have a chance to go back through what he said, it seems even worse. He called her comments derogatory toward Chavez and toward the people of Venezuela. All she said was that their policies weren't constructive. Is that derogatory? When she responded that it was merely about policies that were unhelpful and not personal, he went back to his claim that it's hypocrisy to say negative things about Venezuela but not about Uzbekistan, Tadjikistan, and Russia. She responded that they had made statements about those countries' policies.
Then it seemed as if his only argument was that they also say good things about Russia but not about Venezuela. She answered that in some ways Russia is helpful and constructive, even if in some they're not. She finds it hard to see anything constructive about Venezuelan policy as it stands. She hopes they pursue the policies they've abandoned, but they aren't currently pursuing them. How is that inconsistent? His final comment was that it's just disrespectful to Venezuelans to say negative things about someone they voted for.
Is he basing his argument that it's inconsistent on the fact that Chavez was elected legitimately? It's not as if we have reason to believe the leaders of those other countries weren't (well, I don't know much about Tadjikistan's government; last I knew they were in a civil war). It just seems as if whenever she responds to one claim, he moves to the other, and he keeps going back and forth between the two with nothing to defend either. Read through the transcript. That really seems to be his strategy.