It’s too depressing a prospect to read the Boston Globe Op Ed page after reading a writer-thinker-columnist the caliber of Anne Applebaum at the Washington Post. Why can’t the New York Times Corporation bankroll one or two Anne Applebaums? It might slow down their circulation decline.
In her WaPo column yesterday (“The New Fellow Travelers”) Applebaum observes the 90th anniversary of the storming of the Winter Palace in St Petersburg. The enthusiasm of the American left for the 1917 Russian Revolution has faded (very gradually) since then. But just as John Reed breathlessly praised the Russian Revolution, left-leaning Hollywood celebrities are still making fawning photo-op visits to whatever anti-American tyrant is currently in fashion (as Venezuela’s Chavez is now). The mantle of fashion has been passed over time to Chavez from the likes of Saddam Hussein, Daniel Ortega, Ayatollah Khomeini, Ho Chi Minh, Che Guevara, Fidel Castro, Mao, Stalin, and Reed’s hero, Lenin.
Just as the sympathetic foreigners whom Lenin called "useful idiots" once supported Russia abroad, their modern equivalents provide the Venezuelan president with legitimacy, attention and good photographs. He, in turn, helps them overcome the frustration Reed once felt -- the frustration of living in an annoyingly unrevolutionary country where people have to change things by law.
This feeling of frustration with well being is one that Robert Frost skewered with satire in his 1922 poem, “New Hampshire”
The glorious bards of Massachusetts seem
To want to make New Hampshire people over.
They taunt the lofty land with little men.
I don't know what to say about the people.
For art's sake one could almost wish them worse
Rather than better. How are we to write
The Russian novel in America
As long as life goes so unterribly?
There is the pinch from which our only outcry
In literature to date is heard to come.
We get what little misery we can
Out of not having cause for misery.
It makes the guild of novel writers sick
To be expected to be Dostoievskis
On nothing worse than too much luck and comfort.
This is not sorrow, though; it's just the vapors,
And recognized as such in Russia itself
Under the new regime, and so forbidden.
If well it is with Russia, then feel free
To say so or be stood against the wall
And shot. It's Pollyanna now or death.
This, then, is the new freedom we hear tell of;
And very sensible. No state can build
A literature that shall at once be sound
And sad on a foundation of well-being
This spectacle which today manifests itself as a celebrity sharing a photo opportunity with a fresh new dictator is nothing new. Though more visual and less verbal than it once was, it is every bit as foolish and naïve as John Reed’s gushing over Lenin’s revolution turned out to be.