The Corner

Mea Culpa, Obama, and Democracy

While live-blogging during Obama’s speech, in a Corner entry, I wrote “Obama studiously avoids the word democracy.” Honest mistake; the perils of live-blogging. And since I’m in the middle of a move, I was home packing boxes instead of online, so excuse the lateness of this correction.

As Jon Chait at The New Republic pointed out, Obama didn’t avoid the word democracy. In fact, he declared, “The fourth issue that I will address is democracy. I know — I know there has been controversy about the promotion of democracy in recent years, and much of this controversy is connected to the war in Iraq. So let me be clear: No system of government can or should be imposed by one nation by any other. That does not lessen my commitment, however, to governments that reflect the will of the people. Each nation gives life to this principle in its own way, grounded in the traditions of its own people. America does not presume to know what is best for everyone, just as we would not presume to pick the outcome of a peaceful election. “

But, I stand by the point of my post: Obama stepped back from demanding accountability at polls. Each regime claims it reflects the will of the people. After all, that’s why Mubarak wins elections with 88 percent of the vote, and Tunisian president Ben Ali with an even higher margin. It is important a spontaneous demonstration to demonstrate popular adulation doesn’t suffice. Bush embraced democracy and transformative diplomacy. Many progressives and liberals turned on democratization because they didn’t want to be associated with Bush. Now that Obama is victorious, it would be a real tragedy for progressivism, liberalism, and human rights if the progressive movement embraced cultural relativism and convinced itself that liberty really didn’t matter.

As an aside, Talking Point Memo wrote that I had written my entry an hour after Obama’s speech. That’s just false. I won’t hold my breath for their mea culpa.

Michael Rubin is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, senior lecturer at the Naval Postgraduate School’s Center for Civil-Military Relations, and a senior editor of the Middle East Quarterly.


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