Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The Last Dictator

Like many Americans -- strike that, most Americans -- I'm good at buying into the echo chamber. Let Senator John McCain call Belarus' Aleksandr Lukashenko "the last dictator in Europe," let the talking heads repeat that phrase a thousand times on CNN and Fox, let it go into every newspaper description of the man that follows, and I will likely say, whenever talking about the Belarussian President, "You know, the last dictator in Europe."

But more and more of late, I've found myself -- dear god help me -- siding with Lukashenko. I don't know enough to voice an opinion on the matter. That should be stated upfront, if only to give me room to scream into the wind. But let's look at the criticism of the recent election, which has been viewed as undemocratic by the United States and the EU, both of whom would like to see a new ballot go before the Belarussian people. What are their problems with Belarus?

* Lukashenko controls the press. The opposition can't get its message out. Meanwhile, Ralph Nadar can't get invited to a presidential debate to save the life of a passing motorist in a Corvair. Same in California. A couple elections back, the Green Party wasn't invited to any of the debates between incumbent Gray Davis or his Republican challenger. Democracy starts and stops with preserving the status quo in America. Meanwhile, the right and the left move toward the middle, trying to shout the joys of democracy from the head of the same pin.

* Lukashenko opened the polls for five days prior to the Sunday balloting, making it difficult for election observers to verify the sanctity of the ballot. How is this any different than absentee ballots in America? And when people in Ohio, at least the poor sections of the state, complain of difficulties voting, some of them burdensome enough to make them walk away without casting a ballot, perhaps America should be looking at ways to make voting easier. God knows we're already moving in the direction of making voter fraud easier. By which I mean, dear god why, when your laptop crashes every other day, do you want to make Thomas Jefferson roll over in his grave by telling me there are reasons to use electronic voting machines?

In parts of Iowa, people voting straight Democrat on their last presidential ballot got their votes automatically tallied for the Libertarians. I like the Libertarians. I wish the party well. But there has to be another way.

Here you'll find almost 4,000 more votes in Ohio incorrectly counted for President Bush.

The list goes on. Over a thousand glitches. And all of this would be only frustrating if the CEO of Diebold, the largest manufacturer of voting machines in America, didn't say, prior to Election 2004, that he was "committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the President." As we say here, oy-yoi-yoi.

* But hey, Lukashenko, that dictator, he cracks down on dissent. Opposition activists are being arrested and given prison sentences, just for protesting in the name of Democracy. This might explain the dwindling number of protestors in Minsk (they've fallen from 10,000 election night, to a couple hundred today (though if a couple thousand people walking the streets suggests there's a desire for revolution, don't all the protests against the War in Iraq and Bush's policies suggest revolutionary fever is wild in America too?)).

Lukashenko needs to allow opposition newspapers to exist. He needs to foster a society that allows free speech and gives media opportunities to his opponents. But President Bush, you are not one to speak about the glories of a free press. You have trampled on the press at every turn, closing doors, saying you'd rather talk to the people directly, and insisting, in recent days, that the good things in Iraq need to be reported, as if that's how the news, you silly man, ever works. When Florida's vote was deadlocked in Election 2000, should we have all clapped ourselves on the back because 49 other states got through the election just fine? Was it needless agitating to fret over Florida? Should we have just looked the other way? Focused on the positive? Good is judged on the depths of its failures, not the highs of its successes. You don't build a house without doors or windows and then stand back and say, "But gee golly gee, that's a beauty of a roof!"

Oh. Fish in a barrel with this man. During President Bush's reign of error, we've seen the use of "free-speech" zones, not exactly the type of thing to encourage dissent. I go to The American Conservative for support here, if only to show how even conservatives wonder how anyone can support this guy:

A recent St. Petersburg Times editorial noted, “At a Bush rally at Legends Field in 2001, three demonstrators—two of whom were grandmothers—were arrested for holding up small handwritten protest signs outside the designated (free speech) zone. And last year, seven protesters were arrested when Bush came to a rally at the USF Sun Dome. They had refused to be cordoned off into a protest zone hundreds of yards from the entrance to the Dome.” One of the arrested protesters was a 62-year-old man holding up a sign, “War is good business. Invest your sons.” The seven were charged with trespassing, “obstructing without violence and disorderly conduct.”

And lest you cry "Liberal!" in a crowded room (proving perhaps that you are partisan to the very last, unable to criticize any sitting President of your own party, regardless of his crimes and misdemeanors), The American Conservative continues:

"... federal attacks on freedom of speech should raise grave concerns to anyone worried about the First Amendment or about how a future liberal Democratic president such as Hillary Clinton might exploit the precedents that Bush is setting."

Used to be President Nixon had to look out his limo window and see all the people lining the streets protesting his policies. Now President Bush has eliminated all that, perhaps because a blow to his morale and self-esteem might be considered aiding the terrorists and therefore a threat to our national security.

I don't know. I'll call for a new election in Belarus. But you'll have to give me one in America too.

1 Comment:

Stefan said...

Great post here. Totally agree with sentiments expressed. . .should have been reading your stuff last week and linking to it, too, on my blog. . .oh well, I enjoy your writing. . .