ERIC ALTERMAN wants to know how I can call Hugo Chavez a dictator when he was elected to office.

What does that have to do with anything? Hitler was elected to office.

Chavez is no Hitler, but he’s been using, ahem, extralegal methods including the shooting of unarmed protestors and the creation of unofficial armed gangs to intimidate his opponents. Sounds dictatorial to me. (Points off for the snarky Bush dig, too.)

And back atcha, Eric: would Ann Coulter really be “in jail” for her inflammatory comments if she were a lefty?

UPDATE: Brian Carnell notes that Chavez celebrated the 10th anniversary of his own failed 1992 coup attempt earlier this year, suggesting that it’s a bad idea to lean too hard on Chavez’s democratic bona fides: “Yeah, it must have been the CIA that put those thoughts of military coups into the heads of Chavez’s opponents, since Chavez himself is such a firm, outspoken supporter of democracy.”

Of course, people keep trying to tell us that Yasser Arafat is a democratically elected leader, too.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Several people have written to say that Hitler wasn’t elected. This is only sort of true. Hitler was originally appointed as Chancellor by Hindenburg in a busted-coalition situation. But that was legitimate under the Weimar constitution, and elections that confirmed Hitler’s power followed, as this capsule history from the BBC makes clear:

When he took office, Hitler was leading a coalition government. There were only three Nazis apart from himself. He immediately called a general election to try to win a majority.

On 27th February, just a week before the election, the Reichstag caught fire and burnt down. A communist, Franz van der Lubbe was arrested inside. Hitler used this as an excuse to arrest many members of the Communist Party, his main opponents.

The general election took place on 5th March 1933. the Nazis won 288 seats. This was not a majority, but 52 Nationalists supported them. At the first meeting of the Reichstag on 23rd March, the 81 Communists stayed away. Hitler could now do as he liked. . . .

When President Hindenburg died in August 1934, Hitler was finally able to gain total power and combined the posts of chancellor and president, giving himself the title of Fuhrer.

So unless you regard the parliamentary system, or at least coalition governments under a parliamentary system, as democratically illegitimate, I think it’s fair to say that Hitler was democratically elected. Sure, he behaved undemocratically once elected, but so has Chavez (and so has Arafat, whose “election” was far less legitimate than this) which was my point.