According to President Obama we are in the same boat with Kazahkstan in the sense that we are still "working on" our democracy . . .A senior director in the National Security Council, Mike McFaul
, reported in a press conference that President Obama's oft-touted skills in diplomacy and persuasion came in very handy as he discussed the nature and meaning of democracy with the Kazakh President, Nursultan Nazarbayev. Because of Kazakhstan's record of human rights abuses, many observers have raised their eyebrows in response to its chairmanship of the 56-nation Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe--which is often charged with the task of overseeing elections in emerging democracies. But Obama was able to reach agreement with the Kazakh President, according to McFaul, because "[b]oth presidents agreed that you don't ever reach democracy; you
always have to work at it. And in particular, President Obama reminded
counterpart that we, too, are working to improve our democracy."
To his credit, the Wall Street Journal's
, Jonathan Weisman asked McFaul whether this kind of talk wasn't painting a picture of moral equivalence between the United States and Kazahkstan. McFaul responded, ""Absolutely not ... There was no equivalence meant
whatsoever." Apparently, this ought to be clear to us because (in McFaul's words), "[Obama's] taken, I think, rather historic steps to improve our own democracy since
coming to office here in the United States." Before Obama, though, perhaps we were less impressive?
But what does Obama mean by saying we are still "working on" our democracy?
He appears, really, to believe that this language is in keeping with the
language of "a more perfect Union" in the Constitution and Lincoln's "standard maxim"
(never perfectly attained, constantly labored for, etc.) . . . but is it? Democracy, Obama forgets, is but a means to an end--NOT an end in and of itself. (Though in Obama's defense, I'd add that Bush seemed to forget that quite a lot too . . . though not so much in relation to our
country!) This is why the results
of democracy are always imperfect. Democracy, by itself, tells us virtually nothing about the ends of government--except insofar as it implies the equality of men with respect to their right of consent.
Given the Obama administration's and the Congressional leadership's recent inability to grasp the fullness of that concept of consent, perhaps Obama is correct. We are still "working on" our democracy . . . though, I think, it won't be long now before we get it back.