All of which brings to mind the report of a conservative blogger who watched George W. Bush's 2005 inaugural speech with a group of liberals. Every time Bush called for spreading freedom and democracy around the world, the crowd guffawed and groaned and jeered. For them, evidently, Bush was a figure of fun, and his calls for democracy and human rights laughable. The same people who decried his supposed authoritarian rule at home had nothing but contempt for his call for freedom and democracy abroad.
Beneath this stated contempt is, I think, something in the nature of secret guilt. Or rather, anger at the notion that Bush had stolen the issues of human rights and democracy from the liberals.
The desire to oppose the Iraq war root and branch, to denounce every aspect of it, imposed a duty to dismiss as laughable Bush's stated objective -- set out eloquently before the decision to take military action as well as after it -- of advancing democracy in the Middle East. A duty to side with those, like the National Intelligence Council nominee, who have long held that governance in the style of Saudi Arabia or Syria is the best that can be hoped for in that region, and the best for all concerned. A duty to dismiss with contempt, or simply to ignore, the rather remarkable strides of the Iraqis themselves made after enduring decades of brutal tyranny.
It's quite a turnaround. It was liberals who complained that the United States sided with too many tyrannies in the Cold War and who (in the person of Henry Jackson) insisted on holding up Soviet trade deals to aid those persecuted by the Soviet Union. It was Jimmy Carter who made human rights a plank in his campaign and made it his policy as president, even when it undermined U.S. allies.
Not even when the cause of human rights was taken up by Ronald Reagan, in the Philippines as well as against the Soviets, did liberals declare that we should be indifferent to the cause of expanding democracy and freedom in the world. But now they seem to have done so in the desire to repudiate root and branch every policy espoused by George W. Bush.
Perhaps someone should suggest that a stony indifference to the freedom of others is not a very liberal -- not a very generous, not a very attractive -- thing.
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