Monday, January 19, 2009

CYA With Rev. Martin Luther King's Good Name

Hopefully your memories of the Rev. King are of that dignified and peaceful person who led the Civil Rights movement in the 60's with good thinking. His insistence on a rational approach combined with stubborn purpose kept the movement on track to achieve their goals rather than create strident confrontations, though the confrontations were unavoidable.

Today at WaPo, editor Fred Hiatt uses the image that was so carefully created by Rev. King to cover a purpose of his, to call for elections rather than freedoms in other countries. Unbelievable as that is, the outlandish editorial today uses President Mugabe as representative of the evils to be avoided by elections. In case you are doubting you really saw that right, yes, elected president Mugabe is used to represent the extremes of incompetence and viciousness to be avoided by conducting elections. Congratulations are in order, Hiatt has outdone himself this time. Vacuously mouthing platitudes has given way to outright derangement.

Martin Luther King Jr., born 80 years ago, would not have taken kindly to any suggestion that blacks should delay their push for voting rights while tending to other concerns: low wages, say, or police brutality. Civil rights leaders understood that political power was a prerequisite to fixing income disparities, ending unequal justice and curing other ills.
Corruption can be a scourge in democracies or dictatorships. But it is more likely to fester when people have no way to hold their rulers accountable. People die of hunger in North Korea because of Kim Jong Il, not infertile land; they are dying of cholera in Zimbabwe because of Robert Mugabe's misrule, and grants to improve the water supply won't help much as long as he remains. Institutions such as a free press and independent judiciary are, as Clinton noted, crucial -- but if you delay elections until dictators have allowed such institutions to emerge you will wait, in most countries, forever.

It is heartening that Obama already has ordered, as he told us, a "thorough review" of the nation's aid and democracy programs. Questions of sequencing, of where the United States can help and where it can't, are complex and surely vary case by case.

In the end, given Obama's understanding of the world and America's moral role in it, I believe he will keep self-governance as a priority. He'll be swayed not only by the research that shows democracies do a better job in the long run delivering prosperity and peace but also by an even more powerful argument: the dignity of man. Every human, no matter how rich or poor, wants and is entitled to a say in his or her government. And very few would willingly accept a delay in enjoying that natural-born right, no matter how well intentioned the reason.

Fantastic stretches of the imagination may be the only achievements that Fred Hiatt has shown thus far. His reasoning is best disputed by comments, which his mindless meanderings often provoke. Best, though, I liked this one:

LeeTaylorEMT wrote:
I spent three years in Kazakhstan, arriving two months before the Soviet Union fell apart. A few facts of life in such a society might be useful.

- the only news was from the official papers, Izvestia, Pravda or the military rag the Red Star.

- a few dissidents wrote for underground papers, true.

- mimeographs, the only available copy machines, were illegal outside of state offices.

- paper was controlled. For my faculty to make copies of exams, I had to sign for each sheet of paper.

- paper was of such poor quality that most of it would not feed through a machine anyway.

- families feared to share information, even among themselves. Only in my last year there did family members start to tell the young people that, no, Uncle Peter really did not die in a mining accident; he starved in the gulag, many of the prisons being located in Kazakhstan.

- few people could even discuss their own government, even when the pressure was off, not because of unwillingness, but because they did not know enough to piece together an opinion. A shrug was the most sensible of answers.

No opinion, no meaningful vote.

Nor does this article address life at the very edge. Other family members have lived in other places far more forbidding than Kazakhstan. If you have $15 million to invest in the Darfur refugee camps, what would be the reaction of a woman holding a starving child in her lap? Or in Uzbekistan where any attractive girl devotes all her mental energy to avoiding rape and dismemberment, her body parts floating in the river, should she attract the wandering the eye of the dictator or other high officials, who would replace him if he were overthrown and "elections" were held. Or the Chinese woman pregnant with her second of third child against government regulation.

In far too many countries, freedom from want does not include the welfare mother who puts the baby in a safety seat in the back of her car on the way to use food stamps at the grocery store. Want is grim hunger, one step from starvation. Fear is something which puts you on the run, in to hiding, in disguise.

In Kazakhstan, few lived with that sort of hunger or that level of fear, unless they had offended seriously enough to attract the attention of the powers that be. Most were simply ignored, had modest little flats, well heated, enough to eat, the ability to buy drab clothes which were warm enough even for Siberian winters.

The fear came when greater democracy came, because democracy is unpredictable and can upset the delicate balance of those poorly run Soviet societies. Fear came the first winter when there was not enough to eat. Fear came when a child was sick and medicines were no longer available. Fear came when the ruble floated on an open economy and inflation went crazy.

When the basics of life are involved, the people can't wait for the next election cycle to remove incompetent and/or corrupt officials or to allow for corrections of the business cycle.

A few facts are useful in this discussion. Know what you are over-turning or there will be more of the chaos of Iraq.
1/19/2009 4:29:00 AM
Recommended (4) (Emphasis added.)

and there is:

nicekid wrote:
That Fred Hiatt, devoted follower of George Bush and Dick Cheney, should complain about a lack of democracy in the Obama administration--now, THAT is rich.

Mr. Hiatt had no problem with Bush and Cheney's domestic spying--rummaging in our mail, e-mail, bank accounts, library records, credit records, all without warrant, but claims that OBAMA is undemocratic?

This hypocrisy is breathtaking.
1/19/2009 5:30:41 AM
Recommended (18)

And I had to comment, though I've been avoiding even clicking on WaPo editorials as they degenerate into this drivel. It seems really this is meant to elicit comment to show that WaPo has readers, however much they are appalled by this descent into nonsense.

Me: jocabel wrote:
Putting elections above considerations of real human rights leads to such figures as the elected Mugabe (March 29). Fetishism detracts from actual freedoms.
1/19/2009 5:51:39 AM
Recommended (9)

Perhaps annoying editorials are the latest means to induce us to read the former iconically crusading Washington Post that once overthrew the mendacious malfeasants in high office rather than enabling them. Perhaps seeing a true public servant coming into high office has thrown editorial writers into panic. The detachment from reality in today's meanderings exceeds even the usual lack of comprehension.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fred Hiatt is a tool.

That is all.

Terry C

9:08 AM  
Blogger shrimplate said...

America may sometimes get the politicians it deserves, but we certainly do not deserve such odious punditry. In a just world, Fred Hiatt would not have a national platform with which to inflict his poison upon us.

9:18 AM  
Blogger Ruth said...

It's particularly tragic that Hiatt is ruining the epochal Washington Post that stood up to Nixon and was major in bringing him to justice. Now we have a twisted reflection that can't hold one clear thought through a four paragraph editorial.
All the more reason to blog rationally and well.

12:50 PM  

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