Notes on why Middle Easterners might be a little mixed up on the merits of "democracy" as preached by the Bush administration.
1. Democrats -- American-style -- tear apart our wartime Republican commander-in-chief. It's not that the Democrats exactly want to lose the war in Iraq -- they keep telling us so, you know -- it's that they all too clearly don't exactly want the Bush administration to win it. Democrats assess the war as a failure, on account of our troops' continuing efforts to beat back squads of homicidal maniacs who use tactics unknown in military history and are therefore (as the Democrats see it) unconquerable.
Better to stop fighting, Democrats reason, than to pursue an engagement to which the great majority of them consented back when fighting the war seemed better politics than opposing it. There may be epithets and accusations the Democrats haven't yet hurled at the commander-in-chief, but if so, we may count on their early discovery by the Democratic propaganda machine -- assuming one can hear the thing over raucous Middle Eastern laughter.
2. A Republican congressman, Mark Foley, so enjoys public affairs that he extends the action after hours, and online, with teenage Capitol Hill pages, to some of whom he writes explicit e-mails having to do with sexual functions. Then, when found out, he resigns from Congress and commits himself to rehabilitation for alcoholism. Nice excuse implied there: I was drunk. Not depraved -- drunk; three sheets under the wind; soused; pickled; couldn't help it.
Gets better: Democrats seek to portray the whole matter as due to Republican dereliction. (What did the leadership know, and when did it know it?) Dismayed Republicans wonder whether House control will flip to the Democrats on account of the back-and-forth over what is said to be Foley's status as a closeted gay -- which shouldn't matter to Democrats, as he generally voted the gay line, but could matter to evangelical Republicans who weren't all that happy with the party this year anyway.
All this while Iraq festers, Afghanistan seethes and Iran plots who knows what: all those people, come to think of it, we want to become good democrats -- lowercase "d" variety.
3. Public school authorities in Frisco, Texas, suspend a popular and much-honored art teacher after a pupil reported seeing nudity at the Dallas Museum of Art while on a field trip approved by the principal who collaborated in the teacher's suspension. Yep! That'll learn them artists not to bring their so-called art around here, all them human body parts hanging out like the Wednesday washing. The New York Times gets wind of it and runs the story on page A-9, with a four-column photo. Readers' minds go into overdrive: Dumb Texans! Just what we'd be saying about the religious right and how they'd like to shut down free discussion and similar public blessings! All this amid ongoing crises over public schools' failure to impress upon students what the American Revolution was, and how to employ the times tables when no calculator is handy.
Unexamined implication: The sheer dumbness, nuttiness, whatever, of seeing this museum trip as a trek to Sodom and Gomorrah obscures rightful grievances over the debasement of real culture in almost every department of life. How do you talk seriously about -- say -- much-lauded photos of a crucifix suspended in urine when some of your natural allies go bananas over nudity in an art museum?
4. Mass media sink their teeth into every detail of the foregoing: to the entirely constitutional, but nevertheless unwholesome impoverishment of public conversation about the things that matter most in a land of the free. Unless the bashing of the wartime commander-in-chief, a pedophilic sex scandal and philistinism in publicly financed schools all count as just more evidence of our political and moral enlightenment.
Right about now, shouldn't Middle Easterners be overflowing with rapture concerning the blessings of the ballot box and unfettered speech and universal public education, as practiced in the United States of America? Should be, yes. Just not right now.