Wednesday, June 20, 2007

American Spring

Photo by John Eaton

Last month, in a small tavern in Verona, an Italian told me this joke:
"The U.S. has now exported so much democracy, there is none left for Americans."
Michael Moynihan takes a good look at this issue in a column in today's Boston Globe.
Call it an "American Spring." After a long winter of fear, the return of debate in Congress and the prospect of a new administration have begun to stir the roots of democracy. It is still too soon to tell if spring will truly blossom or whether winter will return. But it is a perfect moment to reflect on the state of American freedom.

America began the 21st century with freshly burnished democratic credentials from its support of democratic transitions abroad and the world's strongest democracy at home. No country had a stronger system of checks and balances. In no country was freedom so central to individual identity or civic institutions so deeply rooted. Wealth was comparatively widely distributed and a belief in fairness ruled. Yet each of these assets has been taxed.

With the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks as its excuse and using fear as its political currency, a clique around President Bush appropriated an unprecedented level of control over the levers of power.

This group launched the Iraq war, began warrant less domestic surveillance, depreciated Congress with the theory of the unitary executive, embraced torture, weakened habeas corpus, and politicized, wherever possible, implements of power. Tax policies widened the gap between rich and poor while the renunciation of human rights and the Geneva Convention eroded America's reputation as a beacon of freedom.

To hide many of these actions, the administration employed secrecy and fear. This moment of reprieve is a good one to survey just how American democracy held up.

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