2005-06-03 / Columnists

The Progressive

A Democracy Fund
By John Paul Culotta


Recently the Progressive had a huge belly laugh when he read about a proposal by His Excellency, the President, regarding a one hundred million dollar fund to assist and promote democracy around the world.

Congress should dedicate these funds according to Mr. Bush for the purposes of assisting fledging democracies succeed in their efforts. An admirable proposal it would appear on the face of it; although in my humble opinion it is a silly disguise to implement an imperialistic agenda.

Social scientists, economists, and historians have studied democracy and other forms of government for years and cannot agree as to what makes a particular form of government flourish and others fail.

Many would argue that our system is not a true form of democracy. Indeed, our founding fathers trembled at the idea of the rule of the mob, as true democracy was perceived. Direct rule by a majority can lead to a path of horrific acts. Racist majorities would persecute minorities as well as any totalitarian state could.

Checks and balances were put in place in our Constitution and yet it took a civil war to abolish slavery and amendments to decide what an American citizen is. Our conception of democracy is not similar to other nations’ perceptions.

We would probably all agree that the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, and India were democracies. The governments of these nations function in ways that are fundamentally different from our government.

When President Bush ran in 2000 he stated during the campaign he was against nation building. He accused President Clinton and the Democrats of that policy. He stated that he thought such a policy would be disastrous.

He is now advocating it.

After the Second World War the United States had a direct role in assisting Germany, Japan, and Italy in the efforts to rebuild the countries economically and politically.

Advisers from the United States counseled the constitution writers of the defeated nations. Germany and Italy had parliamentary governments before the fascists and nazis held the nations in their militaristic and racist grip.

Japan was allowed to keep the emperor as a sign of national unity and pride. This decision may have prevented a bitter civil war and opposition to American occupation. It is noteworthy that the advisers counseled the occupied nations that their constitutions enshrine that the organization of labor unions and the right to strike be legal. It was the consensus of American political leaders at that time that these rights were essential for a modern industrial democracy to flourish.

This nation has never enshrined such a right for American workers in our Constitution. A British adviser after the war feared the successors of the fascists and nazis could be elected if Germany and Italy had the winner takes all parliamentary system that the United Kingdom uses.

As a result the Italian and German parliaments are elected through proportional representation which allows minor parties to have seats in parliament that they would not have if the winner takes all policy was in place. Political pundits have commented that this caused political instability to exist in Italy.

It was the successful nation building of the defeated axis powers by the allies that leads some neoconservatives to believe the United States should attempt nation building in the Middle East.

The Progressive feels we should advise those in the Middle East who request our counsel and monetary assistance in developing democratic principles and systems. We cannot force our way of political life with the barrel of a gun.

Our recent attempt at nation building has been in Iraq. It is praiseworthy that elections have occurred in that bloodied nation. It is imperative for this nation to understand that there will be a difficult arduous road for the Iraqis to travel in their quest for democracy.

Every night we hear reports on television of the victims of attacks by the insurgents. Our attempt at nation building has lead to what I would characterize as a civil war. Cultural differences and history cannot be erased with an attempt to impose our view as to what type of political system should be promoted in a region. When we invaded Iraq we were told it was to enforce a resolution of the United Nations (which the UN did not endorse) and to locate weapons of mass destruction.

Now, we are assisting a nation in developing a system of government that took centuries of struggle for the West to develop. All of the President’s preaching cannot erase the imperialistic nature of the attack on Iraq. President Bush should apologize to the world for the audacity of his pedantic policies. He did not err on the side of life in Iraq. He was on the side of death.

All the modern democratic nations have systems that are dramatically different. For instance some are constitutional monarchies. The United Kingdom and the Scandinavian countries have established state religions, which the citizens are required to support regardless of their religious beliefs. Germany has a federal system similar to ours. The French and Italian government are decisively more centralized.

Italy is currently debating whether a federal system would be preferable in that country. I spoke of the proportional representation system that exists in Germany and Italy. Some countries have strong roles for their presidents and in other countries the role of president is that of a figurehead. Some democracy’s legislatures are unicameral and others bicameral. In Italy the President appoints some members of the Senate for life for their service to the nation. Former presidents, Nobel Prize winners, esteemed artists, and industrialists are generally selected for this honor. History and cultural differences have been a factor in the variations that have developed in democratic societies.

In recent years our nation has witnessed the weaknesses in our own system. Hanging chads, the denial of some of our citizens to vote, long lines at polling stations, abuses of campaign financing are just a few examples of our nation’s need for democratic reform. Maybe we should have a fund to study our own need to promote democracy in the United States. Before we decide to export democracy let us improve our own democratic system!

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