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Sunday, January 28, 2007

If Not Now, When? Dismissing Democracy as Treason to the Cause

If Not Now, When? Dismissing Democracy as Treason to the Cause
Image © Austin Cline
Original Poster: National Archives
Click for full-sized Image

One of the most curious ideological contradictions to be produced (or perhaps merely revealed) by the Republican War in Iraq involves the expressed need to stifle liberty at home in order to spread liberty abroad. If you look around, you'll find this contradiction arising time after time in a variety of situations. The failure of all other stated reasons for invading and occupying Iraq has generally forced Republicans to rely almost exclusively on "fighting terrorists" by spreading the values of liberty and democracy abroad. Many of these same Republicans, however, have never been good friends of liberty at home, and they see their war as a means for reinforcing their power over others' liberties in America.

Last week I mentioned in passing Dinesh D'Souza's claim that America's problems with Islamic militants stem from how Americans "abuse" their freedom by using that freedom in ways that the Muslim extremists — and, coincidentally, conservative evangelical Christians — disapprove of. This is a very obvious example of the sort of conservative ideological contradiction I'm talking about, but it's not the only one. Recently a more extreme form has developed: treating basic democratic debate and engagement as a form of treason.

This message is coming in from multiple sources, all around the same time, and it's difficult not to wonder if there has been some coordination of strategy here. I doubt that's the case, however. I think that these are genuine, unprompted expressions of what people really believe — and perhaps have always believed. It's merely that the current situation is presenting them with opportunities to say what they think in the hopes that their message will fall on fertile soil, leading to long-lasting influences in America's political culture.

Bill Kristol seems to have led the recent charge, stating on Fox News that critics of the Decider's plan for escalating the Republican War in Iraq are "leap-frogging each other in the degrees of irresponsibility they're willing to advocate." and "It's just unbelievable. ...It's so irresponsible that they can't be quiet for six or nine months." So whenever the Decider makes a Decision, "responsible" people must keep quiet for six or nine months to see if the Decision works. If it doesn't, they can't complain because people like Kristol will be the first to point out that the critics were quiet and should have said something sooner. How convenient.

Hugh Hewitt created "The Pledge," and signers promise to withhold donations from Republican politicians who oppose the Decider's Decision to escalate the war. Even people who in the past opposed sending more troops are now unwavering in their support for this Pledge, castigating the loathsome cowards who don't offer the Decider unquestioning obedience. Isn't it more likely that they are basing their political positions on what they are told to believe, rather than on anything that might be mistaken for independent reasoning or logical thought?

"Tailgunner" Joe Lieberman naturally created the illusion of a bipartisan acquiescence to the Decider by asking Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus during his confirmation hearing if resolutions criticizing the Decision "would give the enemy some encouragement [or comfort, depending on the source]." If there were ever a reason to be happy that Al Gore lost the 2000 election, Lieberman is it. The last word, as always, comes from Vice-Decider Dick Cheney who told Wolf Blitzer in an interview that "the biggest problem we face right now is the danger that the United States will validate the terrorist strategy, that, in fact, what will happen here with all of the debate over whether or not we ought to stay in Iraq, with the pressures from some quarters to get out of Iraq, if we were to do that, we would simply validate the terrorists' strategy that says the Americans will not stay to complete the task ...that we don't have the stomach for the fight."

All of these diverse statements come back to the same point, articulated most directly by Cheney: when the duly elected representatives of the American people finally get around to doing their duty to debate America's international policies, daring to raise questions and criticism of what the Decider is Deciding, that is the "biggest problem" faced by the administration. Democratic debate and discussion represents a danger that is far greater than any other facing the nation. Evidently, we should just leave everything in the hands of the Decider, stay quiet indefinitely, and stop giving aid and comfort to the terrorists by actually questioning whether the Decider's current anti-terrorism policy is the best.

In some ways, there is nothing new about this — the Republican hierarchy has been trying to quash dissent for years now, and we shouldn't expect them to stop any time soon. In other ways, though, I think that there is a subtle shift in that it's no longer just criticism that they are trying to paint as unAmerican and harmful to the cause, but democratic debate generally. It's the democratic process here that's at issue, not merely dissent (which is an important element of the democratic process). In effect, then, the Republicans are trying to win a "war" described as necessary to promote democracy abroad by encouraging people at home to voluntarily surrender basic rights and refrain from engaging in too much democracy.

Maybe someone should tell the Decider that democracy is messy.

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