Saturday, February 12, 2005

Democracy: Ain't it Grand!

"Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel." Samuel Johnson in Boswell's Life of Johnson.

"Only a government that is rich and safe can afford to be a democracy, for democracy is the most expensive and nefarious kind of government ever heard of on earth." Henry Louis Mencken

Sorry I didn't post after Tuesday this week. I guess people are actually visiting the site pretty regularly, since I got a few emails complaining about my lack of activity. I was in Phoenix for work, drinking and enjoying a brief hiatus from the wonderful Nebraska winter weather.

Now that Iraq has had elections, the violence has obviously ceased. Iraq's long history of violence is over, all thanks to Democracy. I bet the 108 people that died this week as a result of insurgent attacks feel safe, now that they live in a democratic state. Next week, I hear they're going to start paying members of the media to support their agenda, just like other democracies.

Over the past few weeks, I have received comments and emails regarding my cynical viewpoint of the Iraqi Democracy Project. I think it's very important to understand the root of my attitude, since people are starting to question my patriotism, and we all know how important other people's opinions about my patriotism are. H.L. Mencken, the early 20th century conservative political commentator quoted above, also had this to say:

"The worst government is the most moral. One composed of cynics is often very tolerant and humane. But when fanatics are on top there is no limit to oppression."

Al Franken once drew a distinction that I think is quite important when you start talking about patriotism, national pride, and love for one's country. Many conservatives believe that in order to love your country, you shouldn't question the President, Congress, our military actions, and that you should support their actions, even if you don't agree with them.

One respondent via email said, "if the terrorists see that we're not a united front, then they've won." Franken would equate this sort of blind acceptance as child-like love, the kind that a child has for their parents, when they're not old enough to understand that mommy and daddy aren't perfect.

The kind of love that I have for our country is more mature (but not in the Jenna Jameson, half gallon of Astroglide, two guys and a pirate costume sort of mature). I am incredibly proud of our country. But when you're an adult, and you love something, you also understand that it's not necessarily perfect. A mature person understands that in addition to Ben Franklin, Martin Luther King Jr., and Pearl Jam, this country is also responsible for The Klu Klux Klan, using disabled children and mental patients for government-sponsored radiation testing, and the band Creed.

Having true pride in our democracy means understanding and accepting the good along with the bad. Pride without true understanding of the larger picture is far more dangerous than healthy skepticism and what some may perceive as a lack of patriotism. A patriot is not someone who stands idly by during times of moral controversy. If our forefathers had followed that line of thinking, the United States would not be the power that it is today. Dissenting opinion is what makes democracy work.

I strongly believe that the only road to success in Iraq is to be realistic and hopeful, not simply one or the other. We need to stop pretending that our way of life is superior to the rest of the world's way of life, our religion is superior, our goals and morals are more superior.

Another email respondent said "Your messages on the website make it sound as if you're ashamed of how we live, and that you would rather be muslim (sic). Our country is the best place in the world to live, and I wish you would leave if you don't see that."

Reality is not quite so black and white. It's absolutely possible to be proud of where you come from and how you live, without demeaning others and where they're coming from because their way of life may be different. Many Americans exude the US-centric viewpoint that because we love our country and our way of life, everyone else in the world should as well. This is the very definition of the myopic, self-righteous conservatism that pervades our national attitude.

And until we address the hypocrisy in our government, such as invading Iraq for having weapons of mass destruction, while improving our own and refusing to even have diplomatic discussions with countries like North Korea that actually do have them, we shouldn't act shocked when countries in the Middle East feel that we're perpetuating a holy war against Muslims.

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