The Truth, Mainly - 07/04/2005

Democracy for Everyone?
by Leon Satterfield

I'm not a big fan of our current president, but I've generally had warm feelings toward both his Secretaries of State.

I've really been impressed by the fortitude with which they've responded when duty called them to go to great lengths to make other nations sympathetic to whatever foreign misadventure the president is currently mired in.

You remember the president's first Secretary of State—Colin Powell—back in February, 2003, doing his United Nations slide show suggesting that Iraq almost certainly had even nastier weapons than we have. And you remember how much of what he told the U.N. turned out not to be true.

It's what happens when you hang out with the wrong crowd.

I thought of Colin Powell's humiliation when I read about our current Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, going before a crowd of about 600 Middle East government officials and academics to argue that they ought to get with it and establish democratic governments like ours.

"It is time," the AP quoted her telling them, "to abandon the excuses that are made to avoid the hard work of democracy."

Democracy, she said, is the "ideal path for every nation."

In other words, to make us happy you must become like us.

I like living in a democracy, but had I been born in Elizabethan England, I'd probably have liked living in a monarchy. And I'd probably have resented a foreigner telling me that the way they did things in her country was the model the whole world ought to follow.

"Hubris," I'd probably have thought, "an overweening pride and self-confidence, the beginning of classical tragedy."

Especially if her boss kept repeating—as the president did in his speech last Tuesday—the non-sequitor that we have to democratize Iraq because of what an anti-Iraqi named Osama bin Laden did to us on 9/11. The assumption apparently being that Islamists in Iraq must be punished for the atrocity of an Islamist in Afghanistan.

But back to democracy. How polite is it—especially for someone as nice as Condoleezza Rice—to go to non-democratic leaders and, on behalf of the president, inform them that democracy is the "ideal path for every nation"?

Isn't that something for each country to decide?

(An irreverent aside: Is heaven a democracy? If it isn't, if everyone there has to play a harp whether they want to or not, will the president set about democratizing heaven when he arrives?)

And how consistent is it for Secretary Rice to advocate democracy at the same time, according to the AP, that she "refused to see representatives of Egypt's largest Islamic opposition movement, the Muslim brotherhood, because the group is banned" by the Egyptian government?

Or how diplomatic is it for her to say of Iran that "the appearance of elections does not mask the organized cruelty of Iran's theocratic state"?

A member of the Bush cabinet criticizing theocracy? Whoa!

No wonder her speech, the AP reports, drew no applause.

It may be because the audience remembered that it was a good long time after our democracy was born that women, African Americans, and Native Americans finally got the vote.

And the more mischievious ones in the audience may have wondered why, in a country so hot for democracy, it's limited to government? Why don't church-goers get to elect their own spiritual shepherds rather than having them appointed by higher-ups? Why don't factory workers get to elect their company CEOs? Shouldn't students and teachers get to elect their school's principals, deans, and presidents?

And why, the trouble-makers may have wondered, aren't American families run democratically? How many fathers tell their spouses and their kids, "OK, those who favor vacationing at Disney World, raise your hand. Those who'd rather go to Council Bluffs to see the Missouri River, and stay in the car while I play the slots, raise your hand."

And somebody in the audience must have fantacized about generals being elected by the enlisted men they'll command, and about privates telling sergeants that they'd voted to stay in stateside barracks while the sergeants go off to Iraq to fight next to Karl Rove and the rest of the Bush advisors.

And how many of the 600 in Secretary Rice's audience snickered at her assurance that democracy is the ideal path for every nation—especially when they remembered that through the Electoral College, the loser of America's 2000 presidential election got 544,683 more votes than the winner got (check it out in the World Almanac), the winner being Condi's current employer.

OK, I got that off my chest. I feel all better now.


Retired English Professor Leon Satterfield writes to salvage clarity from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays. His e-mail address is:

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