Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Thin Ice

Elections do not mean democracy.

There. I said it. Got into a "discussion" on this point at Eschaton, and then, today, NPR broadcasts an interview with the U.N. observer of the Iraqi elections who made the same point. Elections are essential to a democracy, he noted; but they do not equal democracy.

Gore Vidal has mentioned recently, in an interview aired on Pacifica Radio, that the U.S. is not a democracy. It is a republic. Consider ancient Athens, and ancient Rome. When Socrates went on trial in Athens, all the citizens of the town turned out to sit in judgment. Like the "town meetings" of New England, that kind of total participation in governance, is "democracy." Rule by the "demos," the group, the "mob" when "demos" is followed by "-gogue." In Rome, select persons held power. They even had a "dictator," someone given absolute power over the military and the government in times of crisis. The much bally-hooed "peaceful transfer of power" TV talking heads swoon over every four years during an Inauguration, reminds us we are a republic. The people elect representatives, and vest them with the powers of government.

But voting, does not make a democracy, or a republic. Iraqis voted for Saddam Hussein; or, at least, a vote was held. No one outside Iraq (and probably few inside) considered that "vote" either free, or fair.

But is a vote under occupation either free or fair? Many Muslim scholars don't think so, which is one reason they urged Sunnis to boycott the vote last Sunday.

So, is there democracy in Iraq? Not yet. Not nearly. Despite what all the pundits and politicians and possible purple fingers in Congress say tonight, a patch of ice still doth not a winter make, nor a single swallow summer. They had one vote. That's all. A good thing, but only in the sense that it was better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick. It is no assurance of anything.

Certainly no sign that the last 3 years have been "worth it." Or that peace has now come to the Middle East. And even W. is not likely to say, tonight, that, once again: "Mission accomplished."

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