Freedom is a journey, not a destination

Bush’s Second Inaugural Address

There are a few Lefty blogs I keep an eye on. (Yes, “Lefty” is a gross generalization, but I mean no harm.) One of them is by Ed Thibobeau, the Left Coaster who runs Nonplussed. I often stir the pot a bit at Nonplussed, and from time to time find decent debate in the comments section with Ed or his readers.

He noted a section of Bush’s innagural address:

From the day of our Founding, we have proclaimed that every man and woman on this earth has rights, and dignity, and matchless value, because they bear the image of the Maker of Heaven and earth. Across the generations we have proclaimed the imperative of self-government, because no one is fit to be a master, and no one deserves to be a slave.

And wrote

Kids, can you find the errors in the President’s statement? It’s well known that he is ignorant of history but you would think that the speechwriters and vetters would know a thing or two.

On “the day of our founding” our political leaders actually did encode into law the notion that some are fit to be masters and some are fit to be slaves. Across the first several generations of Americans the practice was permitted to thrive. Our national ideals are indeed something to be proud of, but only a fool or an idiot would proclaim to the world that we have always followed them.

This is touches on something I’ve brought up in conversation many times and have always meant to write about but haven’t. I intended to post about it later in the week right before the Iraqi election, but Ed’s got me going a bit so I’ll point it out right now.

(And never mind that Bush said “proclaimed”, not “always followed”. That difference does tie into my point, but I don’t want to debate if we should have known what Bush meant instead of listening to what he said. I went through that with Ed over Bush’s statements that there were no ties between Saddam and 9/11.)

We all know about the Great Compromise and the injustice of it all. There’s no doubt that it did not conform to our proclaimed standards of equality. But without it there wouldn’t have been a US Constitution. It was a close-run thing the way it was.

It’s all well and good for me to sit here at my desk in all my middle-class whiteness and say that the Great Compromise was necessary. A great many people will rightly ridicule me for my gall.

But the fact remains that those in bondage would not have been freed if that shameful equation had not been worked out. They would have remained in chains within their independent states or in an earlier incarnation of the Confederate States of America.

I don’t mean to argue this point or launch a full-scale debate on the subject. What I do mean to do is point out that the Founding Fathers had a vision of near-perfection and they DID THE BEST THEY COULD AT THAT TIME.

And, being Murdoc Online, I’m sort of obligated to turn this into a corollary on World War 4. So I will.

If and when the new Iraqi constitution has a few great compromises will America’s Left get all worked up over the injustice of it all and declare the whole thing a crock? Or will they consider waiting a bit to see if maybe staggering in the right general direction is better than wallowing in the same old mud?

The Declaration of Independence said all men were created equal.

11 years later the US Constitution failed to deliver.

80 years after that, a horrific war was fought to try and rectify that shortcoming.

100 years after that, this nation went through a bitter upheaval to make what the Civil War had won a tangible reality.

40 years after that, I’d say we still aren’t there yet.

That’s 229 years from 1776 to 2005, and we still haven’t delivered completely.

Will Bush’s critics even give Iraq 229 months? 229 weeks?

And, assuming they give them at least 229 days, will they pester them continuously because the new Iraq’s actions don’t always match their words and their designs?

I’d say that we have learned some lessons along the way. We will, of course, want to instill as many of them into a new Iraq as we can. But some things you just have to learn for yourselves. For us, it was the slavery of blacks, among other things. For Iraq, it will be something different, probably either the pull of the Koran or rampant tribalism, that needs to be worked out.

Will they get a chance? Many on the Left and in the media have already proclaimed that they cannot see any possible way that this Iraq scenario can end well for anyone.

And Iraqis haven’t even had their first national election yet.

If they were critiquing the formation of the United States, they probably wouldn’t have even waited for the failure of the Articles of Confederation before declaring total defeat. Ed says (in a different post about the reports of prisoner abuse by Iraqis) that the new government in Iraq is the same as Saddam’s government was. I’d say that’s stretching things a bit, and it’s far too early to tell.

It is going to take generations for Iraq to win the struggle for democracy. Many tough, grueling generations.

Just look how long it’s taking us.

UPDATE: Expat Yank comments. Among his points:

That it first got into someone’s head that “democracy = perfection” is one of our bigger problems, because the promise is never quite the reality.


  1. Murdoc, that’s a brilliant piece of writing. To answer your question, this Lefty is willing to give the new Iraqi government and constitution a chance. The historic irony is that I think their document will be fine. Whether their first few generations iron out the practical problems is the great question. I love our country and embrace its ideals. They are something to strive for even as we occassionally fall short. Whatever success we’ve had goes against the grain of history and is a cause for pride.

  2. And another thing… You asked… ‘And, assuming they give them at least 229 days, will they pester them continuously because the new Iraq’s actions don’t always match their words and their designs?’ Darn tootin’ we will. That’s why democracy works so well. That’s why closed societies stagnate.

  3. Ed: Thanks for the kind words. And I’m glad that you say you’ll be willing to give them a bit to find their way. I’m not nearly so optimistic that the Iraqi constitution will be ‘fine’, but I hope I’m wrong. I guess that I shouldn’t have used the word ‘pester’. That’s not really what I meant. I do agree completely that criticism is a necessary part of the process. But criticism can take many forms, and a lot of them are not constructive. I’d say that calling the President a ‘fool or an idiot’ for saying what he said is NOT part of ‘why democracy works so well’.

  4. Democracy. Such a great ideal, such a pain to get right. It took a civil war just to get a lot of the details about who was entitled to it, and who wasn’t hammered out. I’d say the Iraqi people have a big jump on the U.S. that way, as they shouldn’t have to fight Antietam, Gettysburg, Chancellorville, Vicksburg, Chickamauga, or any of those battles to get to a pretty evenly keeled system. However, we do have to deal with the birthing pains. I hope that all of you that protest our involvement in Iraq can look at yourselves in the mirror 15 years from now when Iraq has a democracy in place, and has it’s own civil rights issues to deal with.