Mitt Romney desperately wants you to fear this man.
If you weren't listening carefully to the Romney campaign's message yesterday, you might not have heard their big complaint of the day. In fact, you might be surprised to learn what it is they were so worked up about.
Was the complaint of the day about taxes? Jobs? "Free stuff"? No, the issue that the Republican presidential campaign was preoccupied with had to do with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
President Obama spoke yesterday morning to a Spanish-language television station in Miami and, in response to a question about the Venezuelan leader, said, "[M]y overall my sense is that what Mr. Chavez has done over the last several years has not had a serious national security impact on us.""
And this apparently sent Romney and his aides looking for the fainting couch. They issued five press releases -- count 'em: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 -- and published a half-dozen posts to the campaign blog -- 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 -- expressing outrage over Obama's dismissal of the often-clownish Venezuelan president. Romney called the president's comments, among other things, "stunning," "shocking," and "disturbing." The Republican National Committee even decided to launch a fundraising campaign over this.
In response, the Obama campaign issued a statement that rang true:
"Because of President Obama's leadership, our position in the Americas is much stronger today than before he took office. At the same time, Hugo Chavez has become increasingly marginalized and his influence has waned. It's baffling that Mitt Romney is so scared of a leader like Chavez whose power is fading, while Romney continues to remain silent about how to confront al-Qaeda or how to bring our troops home from Afghanistan. People like Hugo Chavez want attention -- and that's exactly what Mitt Romney and his supporters gave him today. Governor Romney is only playing into the hands of Chavez by acting like he's ten feet tall."
Romney has struggled badly to understand the basics of foreign policy, but trying to score campaign points by boosting Hugo Chavez was a deeply misguided thing to do.