Regina Conley - Catholic University of America

Both Barack Obama and Hugo Chavez – political leaders who use government handouts to amass support and power, control the media to bolster their image, and blame the rich for everything – have once again seized power in their respective countries.

In the face of economic recessions, Obama and Chavez were re-elected recently with the help of a growing number of devout followers who saw the men not as presidents, but as providers and saviors.

The results show how a political party can buy voters and swing an election. What’s worse, America is headed in the same path as Venezuela, which today is worn down and depleted of its resources, and its frustrated citizens are caught in a rut of stunted progress and a stagnant economy.

“Obama is implementing the same ideas that are implemented in my country,” said Tomás, a Venezuelan American citizen who currently attends college on the East Coast. “People are ignorant of the implications of voting for Obama, which is absurd when they have clear evidence in Venezuela of what these ideologies can do. It might take a long time to happen here in the U.S., I don’t know. But the outcome is always the same – it will bring a country to ruins.”

In Venezuela’s case, in early October its residents re-elected their socialist president, Chavez, to the utter devastation of millions of Venezuelans across the globe.

But he was elected democratically. Venezuela even implemented a brand new electronic voting system that was deemed fraud-free by the U.S.-based Carter Center, which has observed Venezuelan elections for decades.

How can a country faced with horrific crime, a stagnant economy and extreme poverty vote for more of the same for the next six years? The real fraud happened before the election.

Chavez used the millions of Venezuelans dependent on government aid programs, the resources of the state at his disposal, and control over the country’s mass media, to sway the outcome of his election.

His efforts were wildly successful, as a majority of Venezuelans freely chose to continue living under the socialist regime, complete with its astronomically high murder rates and extreme poverty, in exchange for government handouts.

Eight million Venezuelans are directly dependent on the government for either their income or for substantial handouts, according to a study by The Cato Institute. Coincidentally or not, Chavez won by earning 8 million votes.

Today in the United States, 67.3 million Americans depend on the government for housing, food, income, student aid or other assistance, more than enough to turn the tide of an election.

The 6 million Venezuelans who voted for opposition candidate Henrique Capriles have found themselves sorely outnumbered by a society so dependent on government that even the utter devastation of their country around them will not sway their support of Chavez.

I had the opportunity to visit Venezuela in February to get a first-hand glimpse of what a once-bright star of Latin America looks like after ten years of socialism under Chavez.

Things are bad over there. Children are murdered and kidnapped in the streets. Skilled and educated parents are forced to watch their families starve because the government crushed any opportunity for them.

And still, Venezuelans voted for Chavez. Venezuela’s plight offers Americans valuable lessons about what happens when a government spends unsustainable amounts of money in an effort create dependency and therefore garner support.

Chavez expropriated a majority of Venezuela’s industries, businesses and private property, all under the guise of “making the rich pay their fair share.”

He implemented socialized healthcare and severely limited the freedom of the press. He also began a campaign that was akin to some sort of government-sanctioned version of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Rhetorically, he turned the upper class into the enemy, and opposed private interests and entrepreneurship.

No one who understands the situation is really happy with the results – a once-vibrant Venezuelan economy that is now a mire of government bureaucracy and inefficiency.

But Chavez maintains his fan base.

I attended one of his rallies in the capital city of Caracas. A sea of people dressed in red, some even costumed like Che Guevara, were shouting: “We are nothing without Chavez!” They marched to militaristic music blasted through the whole city singing, “We will conquer!” Venezuelan radio stations were not allowed to return to their regular programming until Chavez’ speech was over, five hours later.

David Uzcategui, one opposition leader, ran for mayor of Baruta, a powerful suburb of Caracas. He thinks that excessive welfare has turned Venezuela into a country of dependents.

“The government has dedicated itself to a policy not of expropriations, but of confiscations – of businesses, of factories, of companies, of land, of commercial centers – but without any return,” he told me in Spanish. “They have been confiscated for the ‘collective well-being.’”

Twenty years ago, he pointed out, Venezuela’s economy thrived on oil exports and foreign investment under a democratic and generally free market government.

“Never have we had, in the history of Venezuela, so much stability and gain from oil…and never have we known or reached oil revenue at such high rates, that could be used to construct highways, roads and increase private investment,” Uzcategui said. “But it has only been used to increase bureaucracy and populism, and not to generate employment and opportunity.”

In the United States, in the midst of one of the greatest recessions the country has ever faced, staggeringly high unemployment rates and a faltering market, Americans voted for Obama.

In the same spirit as Chavez’ supporters, they voted for more government spending, more handouts, and more welfare under the theory that somehow, if we just redistribute wealth, prosperity will follow.

The real problem, as Obama convinced the American people, just like Chavez did, is the rich. And when we can stamp out the ability for the brightest and the best to earn the most income, we will finally achieve equality.

Yes, we are headed down the same slippery slope as Venezuela. In fact, we’re not just headed there – we’re running there at lightening speed.

We are getting close to the point where government dependents may have such electoral power that those independent from such aid may never be able to turn an election in their favor again, and the government facilitating the handouts will be impossible to overturn democratically.

But we are fortunate, in a dark way, because Venezuela is already a few steps ahead on the same path. We get the chance to see the horrific devastation of a once-prosperous country before it happens on our own soil. And maybe, just maybe, we’ll be able to stop it before it is too late.

Fix contributor Regina Conley is a student at Catholic University of America.

IMAGE: Templar1307/Flickr

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A group of gay and straight students at Catholic University of America engaged in efforts to be recognized as an official campus club have been met with difficulty from administrators and skepticism from some students, who say they believe the club is not a good fit for the school.

As university officials deliberate whether to recognize the gay student group, called CUAllies, the group’s leaders said in interviews with The College Fix that they have absolved themselves of their contentious past and want to be a benefit to the school.

“We want to work with the administration, not against it,” said senior Travis Dichoso, deputy director of CUAllies. “The CUAllies of today is not the CUAllies of the past.”

CUAllies started in 2009 as an unofficial campus group. Students would find an abandoned classroom or meeting hall to get together in, and spread word of the planned clandestine gatherings through social media outlets.

During the group’s first three years, it garnered a controversial reputation through its polemical protests. For example, members would stand on picnic tables during a welcoming day for prospective students with duck-taped mouths, holding signs that compared the stifling of gay rights to the persecution of Jesus.

Meanwhile, they made efforts to gain official university recognition, but were denied each time, group members said. They have not given up.

If officially recognized on campus, the club would receive money from the university to pay for speakers and events, and have permission to advertise meetings and activities in a publicly sanctioned way.

Junior Ryan Fecteau, who took over the group last year, said he continues to actively work to meet with administrators to negotiate terms to allow CUAllies to exist – officially – on campus. They submitted a petition earlier this year and have yet to receive an answer from campus officials, however.

University administrators declined to comment on the pending decision, saying it would be premature to offer a statement while the situation is under review.

“I don’t know what the official stance is or why they are opposed,” Fecteau said. “I think it’s just a weird tension between the church and Catholic social teaching. Ultimately, they are afraid that a gay student organization will become political.”

Fecteau said politics is the last thing on the mind of CUAllies members. He quoted its mission statement to create a “safe, welcoming and affirming” campus environment.

What’s more, it is not unheard of for Catholic University of America to officially sanction a club for gay students. The Organization for Gay and Lesbian Rights was around during the 1980s with the school’s blessing. It slowly fell apart, however, as it was unable to be politically active, according to the agreed upon terms with the university.

Some students believe that, just like the group from the past, CUAllies would never be able to separate itself from politics and protests.

“CUAllies has always been and will always be a political activist organization,” said Senior Robbie McGill.

He said using university money to finance the group would be a misuse of funds because it would be an endorsement of any political activity that the group decided to engage in, which would be directly at odds with the university’s mission.

Catholic University was formed according to a papal charter, unlike other Catholic universities, and is an institution under the direction of the Holy See.

Many American Bishops in the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) serve on Catholic University’s Board of Trustees, and any significant campus policy decision must go directly through them.

The bishops have already written extensively on homosexuality, and agree with the Catholic Church’s position, which is to understand, care for and accept human beings with same-sex attractions, but maintain that sexual relationships between members of the same-sex are objectively immoral.

But according to Dichoso, CUAllies is in line with the teachings of the Catholic Church, and has no intention of setting itself at odds with its beliefs. He said the only reason CUAllies objects to including a statement on church teachings in its mission statement is because members want to “meet people where they are.”

“It would be unfair for any student organization to explicitly produce a cannon reaffirming that their beliefs are in line with church teaching,” he said.

However, that argument doesn’t ring true with all students.

Senior Lindsay Puvel said he believes CUAllies is not the answer for helping gay students find community, because it supports only one type of homosexual person.

“I don’t think that men and women with same-sex attraction who want to follow the church’s teaching and be celibate would find any support in this group,” she said.

She referred specifically to the wording “allies” in the group’s name. She said it implies it has “enemies,” that the moniker makes the organization appear hostile.

She added the group marginalizes students who don’t support a gay lifestyle, and makes them feel threatened – as if expressing an alternate view were the equivalent of racism or sexism.

But Puvel added university officials, and more importantly the Catholic Church, need to make a substantial efforts to provide supportive communities for those with same-sex attractions.

“To say ‘no’ to someone is not to say ‘I don’t love you,’ ” she said. “Homosexuality is something that people struggle with, and something that the church should not be afraid to talk about.”

Fix contributor Regina Conley is a student at Catholic University of America.

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A recent panel at Catholic University – billed as nonpartisan – instead offered only left-leaning professors who denied a growing anti-Catholic sentiment among Democrats and claimed most Catholics don’t care much about Democrats’ support of same-sex marriage or pro-abortion health insurance mandates.

The political science professors also claimed Catholic women prefer President Barack Obama to Republican nominee Mitt Romney, that the Republican Party fails to provide policies favorable to Catholics, and that Catholics don’t necessarily vote based on their ideologies.

The professors tapped to lead Thursday night’s “Catholic Vote” panel at Catholic University of America in Washington D.C. all teach at the private college. They included John Kenneth White, a frequent Huffington Post commentator and author of “Barack Obama’s America”; Matthew Green, a Roll Call contributor who wrote Speaker Nancy Pelosi was “a strong candidate for historical greatness”; and Stephen Schneck, national co-chairman for Catholics for Obama.

The panelists hardly focused on abortion and same-sex marriage – and religious liberty was not mentioned at all – this despite the U.S. Bishops criticism of the Obama administration and Catholic University’s own lawsuit against the Obama administration accusing it of violating its religious freedom.

According to these experts, Catholics care more about the economy than these issues and are unlikely to change their vote based on a candidate’s stance on abortion.

When asked about Obama’s new health insurance law that will require Catholic schools to provide free contraception and abortifacients, and the growing anti-Catholic sentiment among Democrats, the scholars dodged the questions, saying they were too partisan, or that polls show those two issues don’t really matter to most Catholics.

White said that there clearly must be no growing anti-Catholic sentiment in the Democratic Party, because Catholics continue to support Democrats in the election.

The professors agreed there is no such thing as “the Catholic vote” because Catholics, including non-practicing Catholics and Latino Catholics, tend to split evenly between party affiliation.

“I’m not sure Catholics bring their ideology to the voting booth,” White said.

Schneck, who has stated in the past that he believes Obama is the more pro-life candidate, said Romney does poorly with women voters – especially Catholic women – because women are highly pragmatic in their voting decisions.

“I don’t think women are voting for Obama because of a war on women,” he said. “Women are more pragmatic in how they cast their votes, men think more about ideology.”

Overall, the panelists voiced optimism about an Obama victory in November, citing statistics that showed the Republican Party fails to provide policies favorable to Catholics, such as the Latino voting bloc.

“The Republican Party is making a historic mistake with its policy on immigration,” White said. “It is beyond me why the Republican Party would go for short term victories like the Arizona law.”

He also said the country’s demographics favor Obama, citing the growing number of Latinos and single people. Both groups tend to vote Democrat, he said.

The Republican Party must change their tune if they hope to attract voters, because they campaign as if the “1950s nuclear family” was still the norm, White added.

Some in the audience walked away feeling as if they panel was incredibly one-sided.

“The upcoming election is so crucial for our church, especially given that the incumbent president is the most anti-Catholic president we have ever had,” John Archer, a Catholic University graduate student, told The College Fix. “I wish the panelists had had the courage to discuss the issues.”

During the event, Archer had asked Schneck to elaborate upon an argument he put forward at his speech at the Democratic National Convention that Romney/Ryan cuts to Medicaid would increase the abortion rate in the United States.

But the moderator, Sheilah Kast of NPR’s Baltimore affiliate, quickly cut him off, saying his question was too policy based for the discussion.

Fix contributor Regina Conley is a student at Catholic University of America.

IMAGE: NC in DC/Flickr

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