Democracy Begins At Home

The Bush administration has put expansion of democracy at the center of its foreign policy. This is a far nobler calling than simply expanding American hegemony. The question is, does Bush really mean it, and does he genuinely understand what democracy means?

The Bush administration praised Saudi Arabia’s municipal elections, but what about the rights of women—including their voting rights? It welcomed (if it did not actively participate in) the toppling of Venezuela’s democratically elected leader, but it continues to support Pakistan’s military dictator. It criticizes Russian President Vladimir Putin, but only after he goes against business interests. And it may raise concerns about media concentration in Russia, but remains silent about media concentration in Italy.

There is a taint of hypocrisy in a more fundamental sense. The Bush administration is right to emphasize the importance of elections, without which democracy is inconceivable. But democracy entails more than periodic elections, and the legitimacy of elections depends on the public’s confidence in the electoral process itself. In this respect, the last two American presidential elections have hardly been models for the world.

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