"Time 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 of progress.''
-- 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 year's address.
The success 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.
Regarding 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.