Friday, July 11, 2003

Democracy: It isn't for the weak

The best servants of the people, like the best valets, must whisper unpleasant truths in the master’s ear. It is the court fool, not the foolish courtier, whom the king can least afford to lose. -Walter Lippman

Watching Ann Coulter on TV a while back, it finally struck me why it is that her brand of Republicans are the way they are: They just can't handle democracy. For example, Coulter has written a book recently which suggests that all Democrats are either overtly or accidentally treasonous. All of them. Her reasoning is that because some of them were "weak on communism" in the 50s and some didn't support Bush's war in Iraq they're traitorous. "Whenever the nation is under attack, from within or without, liberals side with the enemy. This is their essence," she writes.

What she is really saying, though, is that there is only one way to see the world and to support the country and that way is Republican. She can't, however, point to any Democrats who have ever actually said that America is bad and deserves to be attacked (although here are some conservatives who said Sept. 11 was "probably what we deserve"), but can only point you to Democrats who have tried to either calm fears or to explain situations. She brings up Patty Murray's statement that bin Laden was popular because he built schools, roads and day care centers, saying that, "One year after Osama bin Laden staged a massive assault on America, a Democratic senator was praising bin Laden for his good work in building 'day care centers.'" While it's an obvious misstatement -- Murray wasn't praising, just explaining -- Coulter can't deny that Osama did those things and people loved him for it anymore than she could deny the same worked for Pablo Escobar, who built schools and hospitals for Colombians who couldn't get the same from their government. (The same theory also works for Republicans, it should be said, who bitch about high taxes and then go home and hand out pork barrel money like it's candy. Don't believe me? Check this chart.)

As for Democrats' "siding with the enemy," I've seen no one on the left doing this, but I've seen plenty trying to protect our interests. When Democrats step in and say that we must stop to consider our actions before we run off attacking foreign countries, it's not "aiding the enemy." It's like breaking up a bar fight between your best friend and a total jerk. You might not care whether the jerk in question gets his face popped inside out, but you don't want to see your friend do anything he might regret or, worse, get hurt.

So, does an honest explanation of a problem make someone a traitor? It does in Coulter's book and here's why: Republicans can't accept that people should think differently than they do. My response: Democracy is fucking hard. Democracy is the national-level equivalent of someone yelling in you're face, screaming, "You're stupid! You stink! You're a moron!" That's tough to take, so Republicans have simply refused to take it.

They seek to destroy the means of information. They scream "liberal media!" every time someone says their emperors have no clothes, but, when the media wastes reams of paper on investigations of Clinton (which were clearly motivated by nothing but political desire), they quote that same media, well, liberally. They create groups that do polling designed to elicit a certain response, knowing that, whether or not someone believes the polls, they've done their part to destroy the idea that polls themselves are useful, so their work is done. They say schools fail our children, so let's pay people to send their kids to "our schools." They say the government -- even while they're running it -- can't be trusted, so let's take its money away. They remove evidence that they might be wrong from scientific reports. They give bills name that are in direct opposition to the bill's contents. They either suppress economic information or use the "fuzziest" math you've ever seen to justify their economic policies. They simply will not abide dissent, so they seek to make every form of public discourse suspect. In a country where no one can believe anything, they figure, then whatever they say, no matter how false, can be touted by their supporters, but not investigated by the media.

They simply are not cut out for democracy. When they refuse to lay out their ideas and then confront criticism, instead opting for name-calling and misrepresentation, they debase the very idea of democracy.

I recently e-mailed Prof. Mark Stoler, whose excellent biography of George C. Marshall I read a few years ago, and asked him what he thought of the fact that Marshall was again being represented as a traitor to our country in Coulter's book. He said he hadn't read the book, but was "flabbergasted someone would resurrect these charges against Marshall." He added that "Marshall himself may have had the best reply in the early 1950s when he said that if at this point in his life he needed to explain that he was not a traitor, then it was not worth doing!"

I know what Marshall meant. That a man who built our war machine to fight the Second World War and then created a plan which is the very essence of the "better angels of our nature," as Lincoln put it, could possibly be labeled a traitor is unfathomable. Yet, 50 years latter, someone has reached down to those unknown depths and said it again. That a person like this and the branch of conservatives who support her aren't shunned is incomprehensible to me.

Here's the tricky part, though. Ann Coulter does have her mirror image on the left. Whereas Ann says that half the country are either traitors or idiots, Ralph Nader says that 97 per cent of Americans are. He's still saying it today:

Mr. Nader hammered away at what he described as corporate greed, unfair treatment of third-party candidates by the Federal Election Commission and the indistinguishable differences between Democrats and Republicans. (Nitpicker's italics)

Get that? Nader, who won three per cent of the vote in 2000 (enough to hand the election to Bush), is saying that everyone who votes for either a Republican or a Democrat wasted their vote, because they're the same thing. Does he really believe that this country would be at exactly the same place if Gore were in office? No. He just can't accept that anyone could possibly disagree with him, therefore they're in bed with his enemies. Those who understand the compromise inherent in democracy are traitors to the country's ideals. It's the same logic Coulter uses and its just as flawed when used by someone on the left.

I'll say it again, people. Democracy is fucking hard. People who disagree with you aren't your enemies. They just disagree with you. This should be obvious. I shouldn't have to say it. I hope, however, that Marshall was wrong and it's worth doing.


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