The Right Way to Support a Friendly Dictator…er, ‘Strongman’

From the Friday broadcast of the PBS NewsHour (2/4/11) came a discussion about how the U.S. supports dictators–which elicited some chuckles. Remember, Mark Shields is the one who plays the “left” on the program.

MARK SHIELDS: Just one little point of personal privilege on Joe Biden, who did take a hit for not being able to say dictator, but in United States politics, I mean, it’s always been, if someone is on our side, he is a strongman.


MARK SHIELDS: If he is on the other side, he is a dictator. I mean, that has sort of been the nomenclature throughout. All of these guys who were such stalwart anti-Communists, I mean, the Marcoses of the world, they were–they became dictators when they fell.

DAVID BROOKS: Hey, strongman is a bad word, too. But this was–the policy, I mean….

MARK SHIELDS: No, I’m not arguing with policy. I’m just…

DAVID BROOKS: I mean, I’m not blaming Biden. They told him what to say.


Laughing about U.S. support for dictators is one thing. Expressing outrage that the U.S. is abandoning a dictator in his hour of need is another. But that’s what MSNBC host Chris Matthews appeared to be saying on Morning Joe today (2/7/11), as he explained that all dictators want to hand off control to their children:

It all comes down to the same thing. They want their oldest kid to replace them. And what was the plan for transition for our friend? Did we ever talk to him about it? Did we talk about it, encourage him? That’s my view. Character and planning. And I don’t see–I feel shame about this. I feel ashamed as an American, the way we’re doing this. I know he has to change. I know we’re for democracy, but the way we’ve handled it is not the way a friend handles a matter. We’re not handling as Americans should handle a matter like this. I don’t feel right about it. And Barack Obama, as much I support him in many ways, there is a transitional quality to the guy that is chilling.

I believe in relationships. I think we all do. Relationship politics is what we were brought up with in this country. You treat your friends a certain way. You’re loyal to them. And when they’re wrong, you try to be with them. You try and stick with them.

So on the one hand you have public TV pundits chuckling about U.S. support for dictators–this is just the waythe world works, apparently. And on the other hand, a host from thesupposedly liberal cable news channel is “ashamed” that our government is not doing enough to support Mubarak.

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.