Sunday, September 28, 2008

Sarah Palin, Meet Arundhati Roy

Time Magazine (I know, right?) has a pretty astute op-ed on the frightening over-simplification with which the Right, typified most recently by Sarah Palin in her embarrassing interview with Katie Couric, approaches "freedom spreading" or "democracy spreading:"

Then there was her pained, and painful, response to Couric's questions about the Bush "freedom agenda" — the goal of spreading democracy in the Islamic world. Predictably, Palin repeated standard Bush platitudes about making "every effort possible to help spread democracy for those who desire freedom, independence, respect for equality. That is the whole goal here in fighting terrorism. It's not just to keep the people safe, but to be able to usher in democratic values and ideals around this, around the world." That theory, though, has been discredited by the debacle in Iraq and years of inconvenient outcomes in the Middle East, in which elections have brought to power parties that are more extreme, not less. As a result, the Bush Administration abandoned the lofty talk about transforming the region roughly, oh, three years ago. Couric pressed Palin on this:

Couric: What happens if the goal of democracy doesn't produce the desired outcome? In Gaza, the US pushed hard for elections and Hamas won.

Palin: Yeah well especially in that region, though, we have to protect those who do seek democracy and support those who seek protections for the people who live there. What we're seeing in the last couple of days here in New York is a President of Iran, Ahmadenijad, who would come on our soil and express such disdain for one of our closest allies and friends, Israel ... and we're hearing the evil that he speaks and if hearing him doesn't allow Americans to commit more solidly to protecting the friends and allies that we need, especially there in the Mideast, then nothing will.

What the Time writer, Romesh Ratnesar, seems to misunderstand is that this "freedom agenda" approach is even more fundamentally flawed. It's not just that democracies don't always produce results that are desirable to the U.S. It's that we think we should be able to do what it takes to create desirable results at all, while neglecting the sovereignty of others. It's a little thing called imperialism, and it's been a problem for hundreds of years (though now it might more precisely be called neoliberalism). So a democracy brought about by imperialism will never be what a democracy should be. It's bastardized.

Thankfully, people like Arundhati Roy get it, and she puts it in words that I think even Sarah Palin and the rest of the Bushes could understand:
Democracy, the modern world's holy cow, is in crisis. And the crisis is profound one. Every kind of outrage is being committed in the name of democracy.

It has become little more than a hollow word, a pretty shell, emptied of all content or meaning. It can be whatever you want it to be. Democracy is the Free World's whore, willing to dress up, dress down, willing to satisfy a whole range of tastes, available to be used and abused at will.

Until quite recently, right up to the 1980s, democracy did seem as though it might actually succeed in delivering a degree of real social justice.

But modern democracies have been around for long enough for neo-liberal capitalists to learn how to subvert them. They have mastered the technique of infiltrating the instruments of democracy--the "independent" judiciary, the "free" press, the parliament--and molding them to their purpose. The project of corproate globalization has cracked the code. Free elections, a free press, and an independent judiciary mean little when the free market has reduced them to commodities on sale to the highest bidder.

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