This is an instance of something that generally bothers me about many discussions of politics: the assumption that political figures are not doing things for normal human reasons, but should instead be seen as communicating in a sort of code. Everything they do has a symbolic meaning: it's a symbol of disrespect for this, or craven obedience to that, or whatever; and if we want to understand them, we should not try to figure out why some comprehensible human being might have done what they did, but try to crack this code.
This is, in my view, silly. It's what leads to things like outrage over Obama's shaking hands with Hugo Chavez: if you view that handshake as the normal civil response to someone's extending his hand to you, it seems completely innocuous; but if you see it as a Fraught With Meaning, it looks like a sign that Obama thinks that Chavez is a wonderful guy.
I'm reminded of Nagel on Cultural Liberalism (original here):
Forty years ago the public pieties were patriotic and anticommunist; now they are multicultural and feminist. What concerns me is not the content but the character of this kind of control: Its effect is to make it difficult to breathe, because the atmosphere is so thick with significance and falsity...
Liberalism should favor the avoidance of forced choices and tests of purity, and the substitution of a certain reticence behind which potentially disruptive disagreements can persist without breaking into the open, and without requiring anyone to lie. The disagreements needn't be a secret -- they can just remain quiescent.
Back to Hilzoy:
If we wish to construe anything other than clear expressions of disdain or horror as "legitimizing" Chavez, we deprive politicians of the option of being basically civil and non-committal. Is there any earthly reason to suppose that narrowing their options in this fashion would be a good thing? That it would advance America's interests, or those of anyone other than people who thrive on perpetual outrage? I can't see how.