Of Cattle, Criminals, and Cop Outs: Sean Penn in The Nation

When it comes to excusing the inexcusable, my mother often regales us with the story of the local thief in her small town in Cuba. The story is really not about the thief, whose name eludes me, but about his mother. His name is one of those diminutives of which Cubans are so fond, so let’s call him Machito. Well, whenever Machito would get caught at his criminal pursuits, out would come his widowed mother. Her Machito, she would insist, was no criminal. He was only walking along a road in the countryside and spotted a length of rope. Curious, he picked up the rope and followed it. It was just his bad luck that it was attached to a cow and the malas lenguas, or evil tongues, accused him of cattle rustling.
I was reminded of Mom’s anecdote after finally finishing the Sean Penn “interview” of raul castro in The Nation. Between bouts of soberbia -a Cuban form of apoplexy- and howls of comemierda -the noun form of the descriptive Americans follow with grin– I managed to plow through it. It reads as more of a travel diary with an extended platform for raul to explain history, the revised version, which casts the castro bros as hapless victims of the US, forced to become a brutal Stalinist dictatorship. Raulian assertion after raulian assertion is presented unopposed and without context. Is it because Mr. Penn is taking it upon faith, or is it because he is not aware of the history? Penn was not alone on his Latin American junket, having lured the historian Douglas Brinkley and the redoubtable Christopher Hitchens with the promise of an interview with the head of State. Not surprisingly, neither one of these more seasoned and, one would presume, less obsequious gentlemen was granted the privilege, only Penn. Hmmm.
I could go into the finer points and counter much of what he writes. There is no need. He does it for me:
Having said that, I’m a proud American and infinitely aware that if I were a Cuban citizen and were to write an article such as this about the Cuban leadership, I could be jailed. Furthermore, I’m proud that the system set up by our founding fathers, while not exactly intact today, was never dependent on just one great leader per epoch. These things remain in question for the romantic heroes of Cuba and Venezuela
The first sentence here renders everything else he writes so much equine evacuation. Now could someone explain to me what the heck the rest of it means? If I’ve got it correctly, Americans in their superiority don’t need a caudillo, but….
In a column about a completely different matter, Thomas Sowell recently wrote something that seems germane here-
The essence of bigotry is refusing to others the rights that you demand for yourself. Such bigotry is inherently incompatible with freedom, even though many on the Left would be shocked to be considered opposed to freedom.