President Bush is assailed from the left as a rights-violating, murderous warmonger. (Cindy Sheehan: "George Bush still continues his evil rhetoric that he is waging a war on terrorism, and he is really waging a war of terrorism against the world.") And from the right, the president stands accused of pathetic naivete for promoting democracy. Why would anyone want that job?
Is it naive to promote democracy in the Third World? Certainly it can be -- if you treat elections as ends in themselves or imagine that the process of democratization is either easy or inevitable. On the other hand, those who scoff that people living under tyranny lack the habits and discipline to grasp liberty when it is offered may be needlessly pessimistic.
Spain had lived under repressions of various kinds and degrees for centuries when King Juan Carlos shepherded that nation to democracy in the 1970s. So had El Salvador when its people braved bullets and terror from the communists in the 1980s to vote in a centrist democratic government. Japan, after terrorizing the East under a militarist regime in the 1930s and '40s, was able to embrace the democratic model under American tutelage. And among the nations that have inherited the rich Western tradition of human rights and the dignity of the individual, we would certainly have to include Germany. Yet who would cite Germany for the proposition that the Western tradition alone equips men to embrace liberty and reject despotism?
Elections alone do not create democratic societies. Democracies must also, as President Bush noted in his State of the Union speech, respect the rights of minorities, uphold private property, preserve the independence of the judiciary and respect a free press. But elections are a tangible first step that can give a formerly subjugated people the confidence and patience to build a truly free society. The indispensable election is not the first, but the second; because the second establishes the principle that the people are sovereign.