Friday, January 28, 2005

Democracy for So-Called Liberals

The so-called Liberals were chased away from the so-called polls by the so-called army.
H.L. Mencken reporting on Cuban elections, Gore in the Caribbees (1917)

On the eve of the first ever democratic election in an Arab state, who could be cold to the sentiments expressed by Omar and Mohammed at Iraq the Model?
In 48 hours from now, the dying dictatorships and their filthy tools, the terrorists, will find themselves facing an elected legitimate government in Iraq ... On Sunday, the sun will rise on the land of Mesopotamia. I can't wait, the dream is becoming true and I will stand in front of the box to put my heart in it.
Or Husayn at Democracy in Iraq?
There is only one day left until the momentus day of Iraqi history that will always be remembered, celebrated, and looked upon with happiness by future generations. It will also be a day that inspires our neighbors to develop their own democracies. I cannot wait ...
Finally, Ali at Free Iraqi:
Now, and thanks to other humans, not from my area, religion and who don't even speak my language, I and all Iraqis have the real chance to make the change. Now I OWN my home and I can decide who's going to run things in it and how and I won't waste that chance. Tomorrow as I cast my vote, I'll regain my home. I'll regain my humanity and my dignity, as I stand and fulfill part of my responsibilities to this part of the large brotherhood of humanity. Tomorrow I'll say I'M IRAQI AND I'M PROUD, as being Iraqi this time bears a different meaning in my mind. It's being an active and good part of humanity.
With all this for us, who could be against us? Besides the doomed barbarian al-Zarqawi and his dwindling crew of head-choppers?

This is a reprise of the great 1986 election in the Philippines that clobbered the disgusting tyrant Marcos (there were no blogs in 1986, yet historians assure us that it really happened) - only this is even better. Or the 1990 Nicaraguan elections that sent the Sandinista caudillos to the Google cache of history - only this is even better.

Or for some people, even worse. Let us pause in our celebrations to remember those for whom the advancement of democracy and freedom is not an occasion for joy, but an unspeakable agony. Mostly self-inflicted agony, but real all the same. For example, the 1990 Nicaraguan election destroyed an estimated 75% of "progressive" culture, requiring an enormous clean-up and rebuilding effort. Some of it was never restored, and refugees wandered around picking at the rubble, wondering how the world could ever make sense again with no Sandinistas in it. There was no Howard Dean in those days, so they had no one to turn to. To make matters worse, when Nicaragua fell to democracy the left lost a major source of cheap pot.

And I'll never forget the look of despair on the face of Professor Stephen F. Cohen, the commissar of Soviet affairs for The Nation, as he sat in a studio watching news footage of rambunctious Russians tearing down the statue of "Iron Felix" Dzerzhinsky in Moscow. Tearing it down and busting it into little itty-bitties and stomping on every little bit. Liberated beyond their wildest hopes and drunk on neoconservative firewater, how could those Russians know that Professor Cohen's bruised heart was in every little piece? "Vandalism," the professor sputtered. "I don't see how this vandalism proves anything ..."

Of course there is no joy in Mudville, ever, and it would be hopelessly utopian to think that there ever could be. Democracy hurts. But for some it's not the little pang that ordinary work-a-day Republicans and Democrats feel now and again when they lose. You win some, you lose some, and you'll always get another shot. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?

But when you lose all the time, you have two options: You can learn to love failure and join the Libertarian party, or you can suffer the mental tortures of the damned with progressive folk, for whom the world literally comes to an end every four years - much to the alarm of Canadian immigration authorities. And even worse than an American election is an election in the Third World, which is supposed to be setting up revolutionary dictatorships, not making more Israels. Otherwise all that pseudo-Marxist theory and "Liberation Theology" is just, like, going to waste.

This would be nothing but their own problem, except that their funk is contagious. Some so-called Liberals, who are supposed to prefer ballots to bullets, are showing the symptoms of Ramsey Clark Syndrome and staging a listless, uninspired public Die-In. They don't actually fall on their backs and quiver like gassed cockroaches, they just act like they want to.

At The American Prospect, Frederick Barton waxes enthusiastic: Election Day: Iraqis will go to the polls Sunday. There will be many missed opportunities. Well, alas and alack. What's the number one missed opportunity? The fact that this historic, nation-building election will not include a referendum that would (he hopes) kick Coalition troops out of Iraq. That would almost restore Barton's faith in democracy. Barton is also confused about who owns Iraq's oil, and was hoping that tomorrow's election would settle that question. Except that it's not a question, and Iraq has no time to do Barton's homework for him.

At The Nation (where the fun never stops) they drag Professor Juan Cole out of his Hussein-hole at the University of Michigan and prop him up in front of a microphone: Juan Cole on the Iraqi Vote: What kind of election can you have in the middle of a bloody war? Why, no kind of election at all, of course. Juan Cole is supposed to be a professor of history, but he's a professor of Middle East history, which means he's never heard of Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, or Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In fact, he's probably not even sure what "democracy" is - but whatever it is, it gives him butt rash.

At the lower end of the information food chain, The Village Voice fantasizes: While the Iraq election and other jokes rain down [sic], the GOP goes into hiding. If the Iraqi election is so funny - at least as funny as Ward Harkavy's lame metaphors - why isn't
The Village Voice laughing?

Rather than dredging through all the cyber-donk blogs for more tales of woe, I just want to note the always-special-case of Andrew Sullivan. Yesterday he wrote:

HOW DO WE JUDGE SUCCESS? How do we tell if the Iraqi elections are a success? That they happen at all? Surely we should have a higher standard than that. Here are my criteria: over 50 percent turnout among the Shia and Kurds, and over 30 percent turnout for the Sunnis. No massive disruption of voting places; no theft of ballots. Fewer than 500 murdered.
I sure hope that Zarqawi doesn't read Andrew's blog,else he might get the idea that he could win by killing 501 people tomorrow and stealing a ballot box. Ferdinand Marcos and Daniel Ortega could have used this kind of advice, but it's too late for them now. Oh, the missed opportunities, as Barton would say.

Today, Andrew highlights an e-mail from one of his readers:
One danger is that “democracy” becomes synonymous with “tyranny of the majority,” to paraphrase John Stuart Mills. Another is that those who wanted to vote, but did not, fail to “suspend disbelief” towards the winners. The losers of elections provide legitimacy through their acquiescence to the results. If one third of the eligible and interested voters are not included in the outcome, the democratic process of losing elections is short circuited. Winners do not need persuasion that democracy works.
That should be John Stuart Mill, unless there were two of them. If there were two John Stuart Mills, they would both be appalled to find themselves associated with this kind of disastrous sentiment.

Yes, "the tyranny of the majority" (a quote from Mill, not a paraphrase) is a bad thing, as we all learned in grade school Civics. That's why we have constitutions that protect minority rights, a goal favored by the majority of Afghans and Iraqis. Thanks for the safety tip, anyway.

But unforgivable is the idea that "the losers of elections provide legitimacy through their acquiescence to the results." ABSOLUTELY AND UTTERLY FALSE. By acquiescing to the results of elections, the losers provide legitimacy to themselves, and in refusing to acquiesce they discredit no one but themselves.

Either you believe in democracy or you don't, and if you believe in it you accept it win or lose. Some of the people who are lecturing the rest of us need to learn a few fundamental lessons of their own.

UPDATE 1/30: "Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive ..."

"Take my eyes and look through them my friends, you have supported the day of Iraq's freedom and today, Iraqis have proven that they're not going to disappoint their country or their friends."

UPDATE: A succinct statement of the bloggy contrarian view from TalkLeft:
The right-wing blogosphere, like President Bush, considers the elections a triumph for democracy. The top liberal bloggers, Daily Kos, Atrios, Josh Marshall, knowing better, are either ignoring the elections or have moved on.

Other liberal bloggers express their criticism: Oliver Willis, Talking Dog; Maxspeak; Jerome Armstrong of MyDD; Armando at Daily Kos; Juan Cole.
Let it be so noted for the record, but this raises questions. What is the better thing that Kos, Atrios, and Marshall know? If it's "Silence is Golden", then this is wisdom that was very recently acquired. Millions of happy Iraqis might like to know what is even better than their experience today, but they're being ignored. Did they do something wrong?

Juan Cole delivers beautifully, though; I couldn't have scripted it better myself:
I'm just appalled by the cheerleading tone of US news coverage of the so-called elections in Iraq on Sunday.
Ha ha ha ha ...

I can picture the look on his face. You're not just appalled, Professor. You're Imelda Marcos, muttering about the ignorant masses and their lousy so-called "elections" as you try to pack fifty pairs of shoes into one suitcase. You're Bianca Jagger, bawling your eyes out at the Managua airport on the awful morning after Nicaragua fell to democracy. You're Stephen Cohen, watching Felix Dzerzhinsky get busted to smithereens, crunch, stomp, stomp, stomp ...