Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

The theme of the election

The chaotic and confusing political world is filled with rancor. The Democrats combine with the Liberal media elite to question everything about President Bush, including not only his policies but his purposes as well. This man--it is argued explicitly by Democratic leaders from Jimmy Carter to Nancy Pelosi to John Kerry, is an incompetent idiot, a warmonger, a man who is responsible for the death of Americans. A recent survey of academic historians finds that eight out of ten historians rate the Bush’s presidency a failure. The attacks are relentless. The war in Iraq is an abject failure: it was started for the wrong reason, and then badly handled; nothing has gone right. The distortion and exageration is relentless; there is no let up. Malice is everywhere. We prefer bombing wedding parties to negotiating. The Abu Ghraib prison scandal is morally equivalent to beheading prisoners. Bush’s cabinet (save for Colin Powell whom the Liberals can’t attack, yet) is made up of goons and idiots. Rumsfeld should go, to be followed by the tyrant Ashcroft. President Bush, according to some polls, is now losing support and the election of John Kerry is, according to Stan Greenberg, is almost a certainty.

This is not, I’m afraid, a caricature of American politics. This is what we have come to. But this is not where we are going. We are moving into a period that demands some clarity on the major issues, and on the major players. This period is called an election. It is a presidential election, the kind we have been having for over two hundred years. We Americans have experience in these matters. And, in the end, it will not be determined by Katie Curic and CNN, but by you and me, ordinary citizens who will think things through and will play their hand. We know how to play poker, we know when to hold them, and we know when we should fold; and we are far from folding. An Iraqi government will be formed, and--although not without bloodshed--Iraqis will not slip into the chasm of civil war. They will take advantage of this opportunity to act more like men, and less like slaves. Old habits have been broken and new ones are being established. The task is hard, and you have to be cruel and hard-hearted not to wish them well. The President will be talking about these matters, and his words will resonate. His opponents will wallow in their hatred, and John Kerry--who, I remind you has not even budged upword in the polls--will continue to sound as though he is running for secretary general of the U.N. rather than for president of the world’s sole superpower. And the American people will decide whether they want peace through strength or peace through talk. I know how they will decide for two reasons. One, ever since the birth of the new Democratic Party (stillborn in 1972) they did not decide in favor of soft-kneed Liberalism; when Carter became a wimp, they threw him out; Clinton got elected and re-elected because he persuaded us that he wasn’t a Liberal and, besides, the USSR was kaput and things were less perilous, so we allowed a brief sexual interlude between two Bushes (as Chris Hitchens calls the period). Two, the U.S. was attacked on September 11, 2001. This is the final cause of all our actions, and our actions since then only make sense in light of that. It looks as though Democrats and the elite media have forgotten this massive fact; but the American people have not. If the Democrats would assume what we assume, they could justly criticize some of Bush’s actions in their particulars; but that is not what they are doing. They have boxed themselves in, they have played their last card much too early, they have quentioned President Bush comnpetence, intelligence, and even good will, and they have wrapped it in a word, Iraq. I am not surprised by this, I have always maintained that the election would be decided on Iraq; yet, I did not imagine the ill will that has settled in. Yet, no matter how much the Katie Curics of the world want to help him, John Kerry is still a man who questioned America’s cause a generation ago by throwing away the medals as a gesture for "peace and justice" and a few months later said that he had decided to "renounce the symbols which this country gives" to its soldiers at war. And then he said they weren’t really his own medals, just the ribbons were his. And even later he said "They’re my medals, I can do goddam what I want with them." Yes you can, Senator, and we can decide that you should not be president of the empire of liberty.

No one has ever argued that republican government is easy and smooth. But we have our republican institutions, we have a couple of centuries of habits, we remember our heroes, we know what are fighting men are like, and we can--in the end--tell humbug from truth. And this even though we have faulty information, and bias in the news with people pushing facts around like your all-too-common historians at universities. But the big push is here, the cards are being played, and we are in the game. In the end--my anger at the distorters aside--I revel in the hand we have been dealt and enjoy the game because I remember what Churchill said about democracy: "At the bottom of all the tributes paid to democracy, is the little man walking into the booth, with a little pencil, making a little cross on a little bit of paper." It is these little men, ones who teach hope to all, and despair to none, that I trust. Malice can’t change that.

Discussions - 5 Comments

Yawn.

Thank you Prof. Schramm for the "pick me up" article. I was a bit gloomy after this past week or so. I do pray for success.

Why should we expect that a people who have lived under despotic governments for their entire history can and will accept some semblance of free government? Is it not possible that their culture; their way of life; is unable to support free institutions?

This is not to disparage the natural rights that all humans possess. Rather, it is to point out that the recognition of those rights requires certain pre-requisites that are not generally in evidence even among the non-violent Iraqi citizenry.

It took hundreds of years for Europeans (of English descent mainly) to develop the traits necessary for a republic and even then a very favorable geopolitical situation through the American land mass to establish the Constitution. Can Iraq be expected to do even a fraction of this in a number of years? even decades?

I agree with Rob Driscoll. But I think that the problem in Iraq will be expectations that are impossible to fullfill. I think that the Iraqi’s will eventually embrace "liberal democracy" but that this will not be a cureall that paves the way for economic growth, I fear that the governments that come to be in Iraq will encounter problems due to its democratic nature, namely every group wanting a piece of the pie. I am not sure how well Iraq will do protecting its citizens and balancing medical care, water, food, parks and the such other government projects while not strangling business and its oil revenues. I fear that the very model of "liberal democracy" or "coreness" cannot exist in a nation until there is enough wealth for government coffers to plunder. I fear that the Iraqi’s will plunder the seed corn in a debate over distribution before they ever come to the harvest. I think the same thing is happening in India, the nation is growing rapidly, but the wealth is not spread out sufficiently to stop those who are not seeing the effects of wealth from wanting to take over the wealth of the prospering few. I think that a lot of the true problems in Iraq come from high expectations about what America stands for and what it can do for Iraq’s future. I fear that even when it does become a sucess the model will be one of failure, because I am not sure that what we are telling the Iraqi’s about freedom and rights is along Lockean lines, it may even be closer to Rawlsian lines. U.S. soilders are providing medical care, digging wells and building parks, we are working to replace old and destroyed electric grids, we are countinuing some of the same gov. programms that Saddam had in place for feeding the masses previous to the war, what chance that these things will be seen as part of the "rights" of the Iraqi people for a long time to come? How does the Iraqi on the street understand "rights"? I don’t have any doubts that Iraq can emmerge a "liberal democracy" but this is something very different from saying that they will ever understand natural rights.

To play the devil’s advocate I would like to ask if we as americans have came to forget what is meant by "rights". Are the rights as understood by the nations in the "core" compatible with Lockean rights? Or perhaps our culture and way of life is unable to support free institutions? What are the pre-requisites for an acceptance of Natural rights? Are we not raised in a nation which has addapted these rights in various ways, dulled them, bended and molded them into positive rights? The right to medical care, the right to food and shelter, protection from acts of nature, the right to education... in essence the right to "need fullfilment".

My question is: are we selling Iraq a vision of rights that are Lockean, or rather rights to "need fullfilment"?

The Abu Ghraib prison scandal is morally equivalent to beheading prisoners.


Who is saying that Abu Ghriab and the beheading of Berg are "morally equivalent"? I hope that this post isn’t an example of the "clarity" that you’re calling for, Peter :-)

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