Democracy Now?

Why, it’s almost as if I wrote this post as a cover story in a prominent political magazine several months ago. Oh well, I’m glad to see the meme spreading either way. I think it’s very important for liberal not to concede the premise that what Bush is doing doing amounts to some kind of noble democratization initiative, even a noble democratization initiative gone wrong. It’s not that there’s some huge number of votes at stake here, but this issue is very important among elites, and it does make a difference. The notion that Bush has adopted some variant of the traditional liberal concern with spreading American values while Democrats have retreated to traditionally conservative Realpolitik has a vice-like grip on the American discourse, but there’s absolutely no evidence whatsoever that this is what Bush has done, and only a tiny sliver of evidence that this is what the Democrats have done.

Instead — in an outburst of laziness so massive that I can only describe it as shocking — the good people of the media seem to have decided that looking at the transcripts of the president’s speeches is an adequate substitute for looking at the content of his policies. But if we’re promoting democracy, then where are the new democracies? If Bush had a plan to build new aircraft carriers one would look to see if any were built, or at least under construction. New democracies? There’s one, maybe, in Georgia and some vague hope that one might emerge in Iraq. Meanwhile, the administration has embraced dictatorships from Azerbaijan to Uzbekistan to Pakistan in an unprecedented manner, while collaborating with Vladimir Putin’s steady dismantling of Russia’s fledging institutions of liberalism and democracy. Paul Wolfowitz — allegedly the pro-democracy ideologue of the crew — encouraged the Turkish military to stage themselves a little coup to gain support for the Iraq War. It’s become increasingly clear that there are a large number of people in this town who use — and have been using — the term “Iraqi democrats” to mean “Ahmed Chalabi’s cronies” which two things are not, in fact, synonymous. Jason Vest wrote a nice sidebar to my piece about our plans to turn the Eritrean dictatorship into a kind of on-shore aircraft carrier.

One could go on and on. The press corps seems to grasp that it does not follow from the fact that John Kerry says “I have a plan to create 5 million new jobs” that he does, in fact, have a plan to create 5 million new jobs. To do that, one has to ask, “where is the plan?” One then needs to scrutinize the plan, and discern whether or not its implementation would lead to the creation of 5 million new jobs. Similarly, saying “look at my forward strategy of freedom — it’s great!” is not actually evidence that there is such a strategy or that it is, in fact, great. You need to look at what’s actually being done.