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Jewish World Review April 21, 2003 / 19 Nisan II, 5763

Tom Purcell

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Consumer Reports

Explaining Democracy to the Iraqis | "So you're having trouble understanding the concept of democracy?"

"Absolutely, the Iraqi people have been oppressed by a tyrannical dictator for 30 years. Please explain how this democracy works in America."

"Well, it all starts with the individual. We believe every individual is equal and should have an equal say in how the government operates."

"What do you mean equal say?"

"Well, our country is a Republic. We elect representatives to run the government for us, and every American adult is given the chance to vote for the representative he or she prefers."

"How does this voting work?"

"Well, our politicians run campaigns that lead up to elections. Some promise to give away government goodies to get votes from the masses. Others promise to cut taxes to get votes from other people. All of them promise something to some group to get enough votes to win."

"This sounds like an auction."

"Good analogy. But only a small percentage of eligible voters takes the time to vote, anyhow. Of those, one-third always vote Republican, one-third always vote Democrat and the last third is made up of voters who swing all over the place. This group decides who wins and loses elections."

"This sounds very strange to me."

"And because our politicians have to work so hard to get our attention, they need to raise lots of money so they can buy television ads. They get this money from special interest groups, and once they are elected they pay back the special interest groups by attempting to change the laws in their favor."

"This sounds something like bribery."

"You getting the hang of things. But it's not easy to change things in our government. Our founding fathers were so worried that power could become concentrated in the hands of one person or a small group of people, they created checks and balances."

"Checks and balances?"

"Yes, we have three branches in our federal government: The Executive, Legislative and Judicial. None has control over the others. These three branches are frequently slugging things out, so none of them ever end up with too much power. It's amazing our government ever gets anything done, which is precisely how things are supposed to work."

"I'm growing more puzzled by this American democracy."

"And to make things even more difficult for our government, we have free speech in America. Anyone is free to criticize and protest anyone else here. In fact, our free press is designed to have professional reporters expose the lies and corruption of our government people."

"How different than my country. In Iraq Saddam used the press to spread lies."

"Precisely. Anyhow, once your new democracy takes root in Iraq, then things will get really interesting. Once people realize they have a right to say what they want, they'll begin forming groups to try to change the government to their liking."

"What kind of groups?"

"Well, for starters you'll get conservative groups who say taxes are too high and liberal groups who say the government is too small."

"What is this conservative and liberal?"

"Conservatives tend to be left-brained logical types who go to bed early and believe in family, apple pie and Charlie Daniels. Liberals tend to be right-brained emotional types who go to bed late, enjoy adult beverages and listen to Barry Manilow."

"Barry Manilow? The horror!"

"The truth is that once the lid is fully off, your democracy will unleash everything that is good and bad about human nature."

"What you mean good AND bad?"

"Well, in a free country, people are free to do good things. They can invent new products and start businesses that generate wealth and lift up the standard of living for everyone in the country. Just look at how Americans live."

"But what about bad?"

"Well, in a free country like America, people are allowed to do and say as they please. People who are obnoxious and vulgar have just as much right to speak their mind as everyone else."

"Yes, I see Michael Moore at Academy Awards."

"In any event, that is a snapshot of how democracy works in America. We're in a constant state of friction, debate and competition here in a perpetual battle of ideas. But there is no arguing that our experiment has worked."

"But it sounds so chaotic and messy."

"And it is. Winston Churchill said democracy is the worst kind of government. Except for all the others."

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04/04/03: War humor
03/31/03: Dolphins, PETA and the USA
03/21/03: Traffic Wars
03/14/03: Ronald Reagan's St. Patrick's Day
03/03/03: My Family's Tragic Secret: We're French
02/21/03: I'm worried about my people
02/14/03: George Washington Makeover
02/07/03: Making quiet sacrifices
01/24/03: "Gimme the, goo-goo, gah-gah, remote!"
01/21/03: "Misunderestimated"
01/10/03: Republican night life
01/06/03: Exercise pills
12/31/02: They provide unending joy to those who are wise enough to let them in
12/13/02: Hurried Man Syndrome
12/06/02: In DC, snowstorms have important ramifications --- or, at least, they should
11/26/02: Police advertising
11/15/02: An Interview with Osama
11/01/02: How to vote in America
10/25/02: On edge in Washington, D.C
10/11/02: Giving new meaning to "selling your body"
10/04/02: Bush's Angels
09/27/02: Conservatives, Liberals, Dick Armey and Barry Manilow
09/20/02: Are SUV drivers are the new GOPers?
09/13/02: Bubba is Dubya's man
09/06/02: The Freedom to Picnic
08/16/02: Ah, the $izzle of anti-terrorist pork
08/09/02: Vacationless prez and gutless Americans
07/26/02: Study gives women permission not to hide their emotions
07/15/02: Patriot food
06/28/02: Eavesdropping on a San Fran classroom
06/21/02: The crowded skies
06/14/02: Contemporary Father's Day: A conversation for the ages
06/07/02: Legal rights for animals?
05/19/02: Advice for prom goers this year: Hold onto your money
05/10/02: Don't take her for granted
05/03/02: Letter to the parents of a tubby teen
04/26/02: Zacarias Moussaoui gets expert legal advice

© 2002, Tom Purcell