The State Of Our Cynicism
after time, observers have questioned whether this country, or
that people, or this group, are 'ready' for democracy -- as if
freedom were a prize you win for meeting our own Western standards
-- George W. Bush
Nov. 6, 2003
``The beginnings of reform and democracy in the Palestinian
territories are now showing the power of freedom to break old
patterns of violence and failure.''
-- George W. Bush
State of the Union, 2005
``The effect of liberty to individuals is, that they may do
what they please; we ought to see what it will please them to
do, before we risk congratulations.''
-- Edmund Burke
WASHINGTON -- In State of the Union addresses, the childish events
in our civic calendar, presidents list numerous proposals pursuant
to the supposed presidential duty to be omnipresent and omniprovident
in our lives. Every 48 seconds or so -- last year's address was
interrupted by applause 66 times in 53 minutes -- legislators
of the president's party erupt with approval, while those of the
other party use stolidity to signal disappointment. But if you
are a glutton for punishment and tune in tonight, you will at
least not hear a reprise of the passage cited above from last
of the terrorist organization Hamas in the Palestinian elections
is but the latest proof of what happens when the forms of democracy
are severed from what the president, with a cosmopolitan shrug,
dismissively called ``our own Western standards of progress.''
Now comes wishful thinking, and then cynicism.
the latter, the watery materialism of much thinking -- the theory
that social structures and economic incentives trump ideas as
shapers of behavior -- will interpret the Hamas victory in the
benign light of the Garbage Collection Theory of History. On Sunday,
on ABC's ``This Week,'' Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., said: ``My
hope is that as a consequence of now being responsible for electricity
and picking up garbage and basic services to the Palestinian people,
that they recognize it's time to moderate their stance.'' Perhaps.
But their stance -- Israel must die -- is, they say, the will
of God, who has not authorized moderation in the name of sanitation.
cynicism, Jimmy Carter, an even worse ex-president than he was
a president, responded to the Hamas victory by quickly suggesting
a way to evade the U.S. law against providing funds to terrorists.
He suggested that the executive branch of the U.S. government
could launder money destined for Hamas, passing it through the
U.N. This suggestion has a certain piquancy, coming as it does
from someone who was elected president as a national penance for
President Nixon's lawlessness, and coming as it does after the
oil-for-food program in Iraq, which demonstrated the U.N.'s financial
after Hamas provided redundant evidence that the United States
can not anticipate, let alone control, events, The New York
Times inadvertently suggested this thought: If the Times
and the Bush administration each had sufficient self-awareness,
they might be mutually mortified by recognizing their similar
mentalities regarding America's power.
On the front
page of Sunday's Times there began a 7,800-word story
on Haiti's descent, not for the first time, into murderous anarchy.
The story about the progress of nation-building and democracy-planting
in our hemisphere carried a symptomatic headline: ``Mixed U.S.
Signals Helped Tilt Haiti Toward Chaos.'' The story's thesis was
intimated by its subtitle: ``Democracy Undone.'' The thesis was
that if U.S. diplomacy had been more deft and single-minded, the
Times might not now be reporting this about Haiti:
the capital, Port-au-Prince, is virtually paralyzed by kidnappings,
spreading panic among rich and poor alike. Corrupt police officers
in uniform have assassinated people on the streets in the light
of day. The chaos is so extreme and the interim government so
dysfunctional that voting to elect a new one has already been
delayed four times.''
on the 1,050th day of the Iraq War (the 912th day of the Second
World War was D-Day), the nation needs an adult hour, including
a measured meditation on overreaching, from the Middle East to
Medicare's new prescription drug entitlement. But in State of
the Union addresses, rarely is heard a discouraging word.
have already been heard from. In their ``pre-buttal'' to the State
of the Union, they promised, among much else, that, according
to House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, if they come to power,
``every American will have affordable access to broadband within
five years.'' Which tells you something about the state of the
2006, Washington Post Writers Group