"Gentlemen may talk of the Age of Chivalry, but remember the ploughshare, poachers, and pickpockets whom they lead. It is with these sad instruments that your great warriors and kings have been doing their murderous work in the world."
--William Makepeace Thackeray
Sounds like Condi Rice got religion. The religion of Democracy, that is.
While breaking bread with former enemies of freedom in Russia, she worried about the creeping powers of the Executive -- Vladimir Putin, that is, not the erstwhile Leader Of The Free World (Incurious George) who has been carefully constructing a de facto dictatorship brick by brick with signing statements and a palpable contempt of Congress.
Our Secretary of State was visiting with President Putin and assessing progress in the Kremlin towards representative democracy. She didn't mince words:
"I think there is too much concentration of power in the Kremlin. I have told the Russians that. Everybody has doubts about the full independence of the judiciary. There are clearly questions about the independence of the electronic media and there are, I think, questions about the strength of the Duma." (The Duma is the Russian equivalent of a spineless Congress.)
Golly. Good thing we don't have to worry about the independence of the Judiciary back here at home in the Land O' The Free, right comrade? Not when you have guardians of liberty like Alberto Gonzales appointing prosecutors who specialize in exonerating Republicans and persecuting Democrats, especially when there's an election just around the corner. Not when you have a Supreme Court that refuses to hear the case of a man arrested and tortured by the CIA in Afghanistan, only to realize that he was the wrong guy a year later. The innocent man was then set free in Albania, where we wished him good luck, sorry about the fingernail splinters.
And we are so blessed to live in a country where the independence of the electronic media is not in question either. I mean, the Attorney General isn't shutting off the internet like they do in Myanmar or censoring it like they do in Shanghai. (Although AOL seems to be blocking certain progressive blogs from sending email using their servers, and the NSA does read our email.) But it's still nice to know that Fox News can question the Purple Heart medals of presidential candidates and the government won't interfere with their Swift Boat investigations.
And thank God there are no "questions about the strength" of our own Congress. They still have the power to declare war, not the President. That's the way things work in a democracy. They still have the power to hold the Justice Department in contempt and to force people to produce evidence and testify. Congress can still compel the Executive branch to follow the law...assuming it can muster enough votes to override a veto.
But mainly we can take pride in these United States that we don't have "too much concentration of power" in the Executive Branch. Our President doesn't just do as he pleases; we have checks and balances in the House and Senate who make sure the Executive branch always follows the law. We saw this Constitutional dynamic at work in the Scooter Libby case of outing a CIA agent, when Congress compelled testimony by members of the War*Mart Administration who were involved in the crime and coverup...didn't we? We saw Democracy At Work when the Senate was able to subpoena secret documents relating to the firing of the U.S. Attorneys. We saw Congress exert its will over the President and his minions by passing legislation against illegal wiretapping and torture...unless the President nullifies those portions of the law he doesn't like with a surgically-placed secret signing statement instead of the blunt meat-ax of a public veto.
America still stands as the beacon of freedom and representative democracy, a shining example of that vision expressed in our holy Constitution, the very model for nascent newcomers to free elections and free speech. (Unless you ask the wrong questions and get tasered for talking too long...)
So when Ms. Rice admonishes the Russians to advocate for "the rights of individuals to liberty and freedom, the right to worship as you please, and the right to assembly, the right to not have to deal with the arbitrary power of the state," it's almost like she was speaking to the mirror, because gosh! Those are exactly the same things we have back here in the Home of the Brave!
"Arbitrary power of the state." Sounds scary, doesn't it? That would be kinda like launching an air strike to kill the bad guys in Anbar province, only you wind up killing nine women and six kids. That's sort of arbitrary, wouldn't you agree? The only thing worse would be if someone tried to hold The State accountable, but that State merely shrugged it off, knowing full well that there would be neither charges nor prosecutions in the World Court (that it refuses to recognize), the U.N., or the Hague. "Whaddaya gonna do about it? You and what Army?"
"Arbitrary power of the state." That's something that one of those third world despots might employ, like when some of your hired goons kill 17 people in Baghdad for DWI (Driving While Iraqi) and you can't prosecute them because some dude named Paul Bremer got a law passed by the Coalition Provisional Authority that grants immunity to Private Military Contractors. The worst punishment you can administer to a mercenary gunslinger is to fly them home in Coach instead of First Class.
"Arbitrary power of the state." Only bad countries that don't have real honest elections would exercise "arbitrary state power," like holding 44,235 prisoner in Iraq without probable cause, legal representation, or due process. Only an Arbitrary State would take those prisoners and attach high voltage electrodes to their nipples or beat them to the point of incontinence.
No, it would be bad to live under the arbitrary power of the state, where an impotent voting populace would see self-perpetuating leaders install themselves as Dictators for Life, looting the public coffers to line their own pockets, and making a mockery of justice.
One of the Russian human rights advocates met by Secretary of State Rice had the final word.
Lyudmila Alexeyeva, representing the Moscow Helsinki Group, said that in Russia her group is witnessing "the purposeful construction of an authoritarian society and an onslaught on the people's rights, elections are being turned into farce, and human rights and opposition organizations are experiencing pressure."
Makes you glad to be an American, doesn't it? Where at least you know you're free? And you don't have anything to worry about if you haven't done anything bad?
I know I sleep better at night knowing that Secretary Rice is holding Russia's proverbial feet to the fires of democracy being stoked here at home by our own exemplary leadership.
Sinclair "I'm telling you, my dear, that it can happen here because I been checkin' it out, baby" Zappa