Sons and duaghters of liberty, let, us face up to it: some dictators have more fun than others. Uncle Joe Stalin had many a gay moment -- especially when schmoozing with the Anglo duo -- yet Papa Brezhnev is often morose and, with a few vodkas aboard, he bawls. Mussolini sang in the bath but Adolf was a grim fellow and, if the shrinks are to believed, no Aryan burgher would have wanted his daughter with the Fuhrer after dark. All these renowned jefes had more power than any secretary of health, education and welfare ever to prowl the earth, yet how many were really happy?
The ability to wipe out a village before breakfast or to send whole populations to extermination camps does not in and of itself put wings to the spirit of a dictator. The derive amusement from his work, a dictator needs something more, and history counsels that at least one of the indispensables for a happy dictator is a good working relationship with the journalists and the pols of the Free World. Any dictator gifted in putting on these eminences always has a laugh readily available, and down in Havana there resides one of the gayest dictators of all.
Good old Fidel, one of Heaven's darlings! At 32 he was given a whole nation to abuse once he had sent his predecessor packing and shot or incarcerated tens of thousands of the indigenous disciples of the Chamber of Commerce. In 1960, he came to the United States wearing green fatigues and what appeared to be pole-climbing boots. With a stupefying coterie of thugs and cut-ups, he moved into a Harlem hotel and there plucked chickens. He harangued the United Nations General Assembly for 4 1/2 hours and returned to Cuba leaving behind a hush of awe.
The awe has endured, as Fidel Knows very well. Hence, when Fidel came to New York this month, he was abrim with confidence and as full of fun as a capitalist from Kansas anticipating the massage parlors of Times Square. Irrepressibly wearing the same fatigue ensemble (now starched) and chomping on his cigar, he promptly got into an amusing row with U.S. customs officials. It took 48 cars to get him in from the airport. He monopolized at least three security forces and cost New York City police nearly $100,000 in daily overtime pay. Streets near his residence were sealed off, thousands demonstrated, and the puckish Fidel went into seclusion, exasperating the pundits by his reticence and joshing the cops with hints that he might stay an additional five days, perhaps 10.
Then he trundled over to the United Nations and wowed a packed house with a diatribe about neo-colonialists, Zionists, imperialists -- in sum, all the phantasmagorias that so easily set teeth to grinding at the world center for institutionalized brotherhood. Israel has committed "the most terrible crime of our time," he sang. America's "respressive maneuvers" to maintain "the colonial status of Puerto Rico" must end, he admonished. Soon the hoots and the heehaws were resounding through the great hall. Fidel was having a grand old time, and he saved his most ribald deviltry for last.
Right there in the cultural capital of the great liberal democracry good old Fidel inquired: "Why should some be miserably poor so that others may be exaggeratedly righ"? Why indeed! And so Fidel demanded that Japan and the Western powers cough up $300 billion, and off he went to savor the evening news.
For some it was a sad night. All over America thousands of pols fell into the mulligrubs. "Why didn't I think of that?" they fretted. And Fidel glowed. When the pols finally laid hands on the text of his mischievous address, their unease intensified.
In it Fidel had preempted them at every turn; there was even a visionary plan for spending the boodle. Six hundred thousand schools could be built for educating 400 million children! Or 30,000 hospitals with 18 million beds! Or 60 million "comfortable" homes for 300 million people! Think of it: from Cairo to Capetown a vast tidy sea of all-electric bi-levels! In one stunning oration Fidel anticipated every forward-looking utterance Walter Mondale might make until well into the 1990s. This was Fidel's greatest hour. In the middle of Manhattan, with the tape running and the hot lights upon him, the Great Jailer of the Caribbean had performed a near-perfect impersonation of an American goody-goody progressive.
"Castro, at U.N., Asks Rich Nations to Give $300 Billion to Help Poor," a New York Times headline solemnly declared. The headline was typical, and Fidel must habe been prodigiously amused. The sheer crackpottery of the scheme was not even touched upon, not in The Times and nowhere else. Nor was it widely noted that the most impoverishing neo-colonialism today is the neo-colonialism that Fidel clamped down upon Cuba nearly 20 years ago -- that is to say, the Soviet-backed neo-colonialism that forces Cubans to stand in line for life's essentials, even as Fidel lavishly arms his military and sends it off to frustrate productivity throughout his beloved Third World. The Gringo colossus must end its senseless arms race and feed the world's poor, Fidel said with a wink; and never did he mention the arms ecpenditures of his friends the Soviets, expenditures that now exceed America's by 25 to 45 percent.
It was Fidel's hour, and no one of consequence was boorish enough to ask who would distribute this $300 billion or how it might reach the poor. Nor did anyone of consequence point out that those poor most desperately in need of aid happen to be the Indochinese victims of good old Fidel's ideological kin. Fidel's amusement was complete.
That Fidel relished the joke became instantly manifest. For the rest of his stay he simply let himself go. He held yet another soiree for some of the Third World brethren. He called in two American congressmen and fussed with them over the Caribbean machinations of the warlike Jimmy. And as a final caprice he hastily called a dinner party for a band of American media eminences wherein he scrimped on the booze, hid the food and denied access to the privy until well after 11 p.m. Imagine keeping the members of America's Fourth Estate sober past 6 p.m. and hungry and away from the toilet! This was Fidel at the height of his powers -- a dictator of the highest standards, but one who knows how to enjoy a volupt laugh. I join George McGovern in saluting him.