Democracy--It's Wonderful (Except When It's Not)!

Democracy is the product we’re marketing around the globe, under Bush administration auspices. Not without some sales resistance.

Take Baghdad. Around and around the customers circle, kicking the tires, giving each other the evil eye, if not blowing each other up — the ultimate act of mistrust.

The reputed blessings of government of the people, by the people, for the people make less impression there, it seems, than many Americans had hoped or expected.

Should Americans really wonder? For more than two centuries we’ve been in the democracy business. To say the least, we haven’t worked out all the kinks. You know as much by reading or watching the news. Nothing in our public affairs right now seems orderly or tidy or moderate or measured.

On Monday, Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin called for Senate censure of President Bush, who, says Feingold, broke the law by allowing security-oriented eavesdropping on certain telephone calls. If censure fails, there’s always impeachment, a process being mulled by Congressman John Conyers of Michigan.

Earlier, a deal to allow a Persian Gulf company’s involvement in the running of key U.S. ports set off political explosions. Right off the bat, commentators called the deal a threat to U.S. security. Democrats and Republicans alike seconded the motion. So how did they know the deal was a threat to security? They — um — inferred it. Arabs plus ports equals terrorism.

Never mind that these particular Arabs were proven friends of the U.S., and that port security was to remain in American hands, and that no one had had time or opportunity to hear the deal explained in detail by those who negotiated it. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to express the most irrational opinions, rationality being something the free marketplace decides for itself. You acknowledge as much even while watching the Arabs pull out of the port deal rather than submit to continued battering by those (e.g., Lou Dobbs, Michael Savage, John Kerry) who seemingly knew all they cared to know about the deal.

Meanwhile, the Katrina backlash continues. A force of nature wrecked an American city, not exactly for the first time. (The centennial next month of the San Francisco earthquake may refresh recollections of Mother Nature’s mean spells.) Precisely what the White House should have done to avert, or now should do to repair, this disaster matters less to an army of critics and commentators than that all this stuff happened on George W. Bush’s watch, when Iraq wasn’t going very well. How, please, could Bush not be to blame? Or, as Tim McGraw, the country music plunker and noted constitutional authority, informed us last week, "There’s no reason why someone can’t go down there who’s supposed to be the leader of the free world … and say: ‘I’m giving you a job to do, and I’m not leaving here until it’s done … and if it’s not done by the time I get back on my plane, then you’re fired….’" Right — tell that to the guy already tasked with fending off censure and knocking heads together in Iraq.

Sound and sounder seems Winston Churchill’s trenchant witticism concerning democracy: the worst form of government except for all the others. Personal expectations can foul up the process. What? My viewpoint doesn’t override yours? Why, you scum-bum! Take off those glasses and let’s settle this…!

A point we regularly forget or just plain ignore about democracy is that democratic success depends on habits like individual self-restraint, a certain civic spirit and comparative unity in times of challenge and danger.

Times like these? Certainly life hasn’t always seemed this hard. What irony! Even as we merchandise democracy to the newly liberated, the liberators show themselves less and less adept at their use of the product. We fight, we fume; we slam, we slime. It’s enough to make certain people think Mr. Hussein probably had something going for him, before the American warmongers so rudely took the bullets and butcher knives away from him.