Sunday, January 16, 2005

The accountability moment

Regardless of your party-affiliation, one universal value of Americans must be accountability. It is one of the fundamental aspects of democracy that makes it more desirable than other systems of power. Unlike under a dictatorship, democratic leaders are accountable to their fellow citizens. Indeed, Freedome House, a pro-democracy NGO that publishes a democracy index for the world's governments, added a question about accountability to its 2003 survey.

So everyone ought to be peeved by President Bush's recent comments that the American populace support his Iraq policy, since the election was an "accountability moment," and he's still in office. In fact, he says that his reelection represents an endorsement of his policies.

This ridiculous assertion of some "accountability moment" by the President is anathema to American democracy. Accountability must go far beyond elections held once every four years, even beyond Congressional elections held once every two. If it does not, then we put in place a fresh set of dictators at every election cycle, or confirm the rightfulness of the last set. This is why our Constitution sets forth the separation of powers—so that accountability is embodied by the branches of the government itself, with each answerable to the next. The President's understanding of accountability further points to the "Putinization" of American politics, as Matt Yglesias has coined it, and hardens the impression that, after four years of failed Congressional oversite, manipulation of the media by the administration, media agglomeration around conservative ideologues, and the implementation of an unreliable electronic voting system, our democracy is, frankly, travelling down that oft-foretold slippery slope.

And, besides, the President's claim is bullshit. The Republicans are trying to argue an inherently contradictory set of positions. "We won the election because of 'values,' so it's a vindication of conservative Christians." Or, "We won the election because the people liked our Iraq policies." You cannot have it both ways when you win with just over 50% of the electorate. The truth is, there were a hundred cross-cutting political issues, and polls conducted by the New York Times and other organizations that showed majorities of Americans believing the war has cost us too many lives and too much money make it clear that, as spurrious as the "values" argument might be, it holds more water than an endorsement of Iraq policies.

I fear that now that we're on this slope, there's no way off of it. How do you combat political forces that are willing to sacrifice democracy in so many ways in order to remain in power? Once the fundamental beliefs in democracy have been sacrificed to realist strategems, there's no obvious righteous path back to democracy. Many would argue that many of those values in democracy, and our government's commitment to maintain them, were illusions to begin with. In that case, at least now the beast is out from under the bed. Good luck getting it back down.

UPDATE: 58 per-cent of people think that the situation in Iraq was not worth going to war for. 44 per-cent said the war has destabilized the middle east. There's no vindication there.


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