It's an odd thing to be running for president while simultaneously denigrating the very idea of democracy. But, then, the Republican Party's relationship to democracy has become, to put it charitably, very odd. Right now, they're barely on speaking terms, and if they could just have the whole relationship annulled, they probably would. Just like Rudy did with his first marriage (you know, the one to his cousin that lasted 14 years).
But wasn't democracy in the Middle East what the entire Iraq adventure was all about? Or, I should say, wasn't it the reason of last resort when the other 217 reasons turned out to be lies? Well, apparently, the idea of bringing the Iraqis democracy was about as real as Saddam's WMD.
Just listen to John McCain -- the biggest supporter of the war outside of Dick Cheney -- on this week's Meet the Press. Tim Russert asked him about the fact that 144 members of the 275 person Iraqi parliament signed a legislative petition last week calling on the U.S. to set a timetable to withdraw:
RUSSERT: The duly elected people's bodies, the U.S. Congress and the Iraqi parliament, say they want a troop withdrawal. That's more than a poll. Isn't that the voice of the people?
McCAIN: ...There is a certain amount of domestic political calculations involved there in what the Iraqi, quote, "parliament" said.
You could almost see the contempt dripping off McCain's lips: "The Iraqi, quote, 'parliament.'"
So what, pray tell, is the difference between a "parliament" and a parliament? To McCain it's apparently whether the parliament agrees with him. And, by the way, Senator, there is another word for "domestic political calculations": democracy. But McCain, like Bush, is too arrogant to believe that real democracy could ever include disagreement with their wishes.
The syllogism goes something like this:
a) I'm right.
b) Democracy is right.
c) Whatever I agree with is therefore "democracy" and whatever I don't agree with, isn't.
At least McCain didn't attack the Iraqi legislators as being "un-American."
Bush's lack of respect for democracy runs even deeper than McCain's and is topped only by his cynical use -- and abandonment -- of the concept.
Throughout the Iraq debacle, Bush has insisted that Iraq is a sovereign country ("Let Freedom Reign!") and that if the Iraqis didn't want us there we would leave. Indeed, in January 2005, on the eve of the Iraqi election, the president was asked if America would pull out of Iraq if the new government asked him to do so. "Absolutely," he replied. "This is a sovereign government. They're on their feet."
But now that a majority of that government is calling for a withdrawal date, what has been the president's response? Silence. Which is standard operating procedure for those in this administration. Any time they fail on their stated goals, they just make up new ones. Any time a fact comes out that belies their increasingly skewed view of reality, they just deny it. And as the circle of war supporters gets smaller and smaller, the last dead-enders -- which, unfortunately, includes every serious GOP candidate for president -- grow more detached.
What's worse for the president is that the war isn't even a left/right issue anymore -- and hasn't been for a long time now. John McCain may discount what the Iraqi parliament did last week, but George Will doesn't. "We may be watching the wrong legislature," he told George Stephanopoulos on This Week. "We're watching Congress on Capitol Hill. There are 275 seats in the Iraqi parliament -- 138 of them are occupied by people -- that's one more than a majority -- who signed a petition..."
But to McCain, Bush, Cheney and their dwindling allies, that doesn't matter. And if it means turning up their noses at democracy in action, so be it.
The danger for them, of course, is that it's a lot easier to discount democracy in Iraq than democracy back here at home. Americans made a "domestic political calculation" in November; they're going to make another in 2008. And "Making a Mockery of Democracy" isn't likely to be a winning campaign slogan for McCain or the GOP.