W.'s Stiletto Democracy


February 27, 2005

It was remarkable to see President Bush lecture Vladimir Putin on the
importance of checks and balances in a democratic society.

Remarkably brazen, given that the only checks Mr. Bush seems to
believe in are those written to the "journalists" Armstrong Williams,
Maggie Gallagher and Karen Ryan, the fake TV anchor, to help promote
his policies. The administration has given a whole new meaning to
checkbook journalism, paying a stupendous $97 million to an outside
P.R. firm to buy columnists and produce propaganda, including faux
video news releases.

The only balance W. likes is the slavering, Pravda-like "Fair and
Balanced" coverage Fox News provides. Mr. Bush pledges to spread
democracy while his officials strive to create a Potemkin press
village at home. This White House seems to prefer softball questions
from a self-advertised male escort with a fake name to hardball
questions from journalists with real names; it prefers tossing
journalists who protect their sources into the gulag to giving up the
officials who broke the law by leaking the name of their own C.I.A.

W., who once looked into Mr. Putin's soul and liked what he saw, did
not demand the end of tyranny, as he did in his second Inaugural
Address. His upper lip sweating a bit, he did not rise to the level of
his hero Ronald Reagan's "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall."
Instead, he said that "the common ground is a lot more than those
areas where we disagree." The Russians were happy to stress the common
ground as well.

An irritated Mr. Putin compared the Russian system to the American
Electoral College, perhaps reminding the man preaching to him about
democracy that he had come in second in 2000 according to the popular
vote, the standard most democracies use.

Certainly the autocratic former K.G.B. agent needs to be upbraided by
someone - Tony Blair, maybe? - for eviscerating the meager steps
toward democracy that Russia had made before Mr. Putin came to power.
But Mr. Bush is on shaky ground if he wants to hold up his
administration as a paragon of safeguarding liberty - considering it
has trampled civil liberties in the name of the war on terror and
outsourced the torture of prisoners to bastions of democracy like
Syria, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. 

"I live in a transparent country," Mr. Bush protested to a Russian
reporter who implicitly criticized the Patriot Act by noting that the
private lives of American citizens "are now being monitored by the

Dick Cheney's secret meetings with energy lobbyists were certainly a
model of transparency. As was the buildup to the Iraq war, when the
Bush hawks did their best to cloak the real reasons they wanted to go
to war and trumpet the trumped-up reasons.

The Bush administration wields maximum secrecy with minimal
opposition. The White House press is timid. The poor, limp Democrats
don't have enough power to convene Congressional hearings on any
Republican outrages and are reduced to writing whining letters of
protest that are tossed in the Oval Office trash.

When nearly $9 billion allotted for Iraqi reconstruction during Paul
Bremer's tenure went up in smoke, Democratic lawmakers vainly pleaded
with Republicans to open a Congressional investigation.

Even the near absence of checks and balances is not enough for W. Not
content with controlling the White House, Congress, the Supreme Court
and a good chunk of the Fourth Estate, he goes to even more ludicrous
lengths to avoid being challenged.

The White House wants its Republican allies in the Senate to stamp out
the filibuster, one of the few weapons the handcuffed Democrats have
left. They want to invoke the so-called nuclear option and get rid of
the 150-year-old tradition in order to ram through more right-wing

Mr. Bush and Condi Rice strut in their speeches - the secretary of
state also strutted in Wiesbaden in her foxy "Matrix"-dominatrix black
leather stiletto boots - but they shy away from taking questions from
the public unless they get to vet the questions and audiences in

Administration officials went so far as to cancel a town hall meeting
during Mr. Bush's visit to Germany last week after deciding an
unscripted setting would be too risky, opting for a round-table talk
in Mainz with preselected Germans and Americans.

The president loves democracy - as long as democracy means he's always

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