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Election Shock Treatment

The Democrats try to get over Iraq's latest achievement.

7:26 AM, Feb 28, 2005 • By NOEMIE EMERY
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WITH THINGS LOOKING UP for a change, this has been a rough patch of time for the Democrats. They have been suffering from Election Shock Treatment; which means the success of the Iraqi elections has shocked them into the realization that they may have to seek treatment, because of the trauma induced by the growing suspicion that President Bush has been right all along: right in the decision to go into Iraq; right in the decision to hang tough in Palestine; right in the belief that Muslims and Arabs may also want freedom; that elections there can be held, and succeed.

But even before this last "bad" (read, good) news, things had turned grim for the quagmire addicts, with the terrible realization that events elsewhere had not taken a turn for the worse. In August 2004, for instance, Australian Prime Minister John Howard was not defeated for his sin of backing Bush in the Iraqi invasion, dealing no blow at all to the Bush coalition. Then the Afghan elections went all too smoothly, despite the fact that the country, three years earlier, had been a perfect model of 13th century governance. Then the Palestinians, after Arafat's death, had the gall to start edging somewhat away from their ideological precipice, suggesting we might face a third non-disaster, a prospect too ghastly to contemplate.

In December, some of the savvier commentators had begun suggesting that Bush's democracy project was showing signs of working, and Martin Gilbert, the biographer of Winston S Churchill, had written that Bush and his main man Tony Blair might stand some day with Churchill and Roosevelt. Among the in crowd--which had been appalled when Ronald Reagan, the amiable dunce, was declared by serious people the liberator of the people of Communist Europe--the idea that history might repeat itself was too much to bear.

"The success of the elections poses a major intellectual-moral political problem for people in this city," writes Kurt Andersen in New York, a magazine which even in its first issue after 9/11 could not restrain itself from taking a few swipes at the red states and "their" president. "Now the people of this Bush-hating city are being forced to grant the merest possibility that Bush, despite his annoying manner . . . hubris and dissembling and incompetence . . . just might--might possibly--have been correct to invade, to occupy, and to try to enable a democratically elected government in Iraq."

The whole thing is almost too awful to think of, and one way of not thinking is to pretend nothing happened, and on this the press and the Democrats have surely done more than their best. For months, signs of progress were ignored or buried; while setbacks and embarrassments were stretched out. The Afghan elections dropped down the memory hole with nary a flutter. If Howard had lost in Australia, that election, like the one in Spain some months earlier, would have been correctly played up as a major event of world-wide significance. As it was not a vote of no-confidence in Bush and his mission, it ended up, when noticed, in the deep inside pages, and the international aspects weren't touched on. As for the Iraqi elections, the less said the better has been the approach of all good Bush-bashers. On Meet the Press this Sunday, Maureen Dowd, looking more and more desolate as Tom Friedman and Bill Safire chirped on about freedom and turning points, tried to wrench the subject back to the 2000 "stolen" election and Gannongate, the tale of a weirdo who wrangled a press pass and surely not the most crucial story of the new century.

But denial usually cannot be dragged on forever, and one day one deals with one's grief. Some acknowledged the event, but denied much had happened, such as the always tone-deaf John Kerry, who on Meet The Press looked as if he were at somebody's funeral; perhaps his own. Others went in for a more "nuanced" explanation: a fine thing had happened in Iraq, they conceded, but it had nothing to do with George W. Bush. Senate Democratic leader Harry "Reid praised Iraqis for voting," said the Los Angeles Times, "but he gave little credit to the administration for helping Iraqis hold the election , and said 'We all know that these brave men and women will never be truly freed until they can walk through their cities and towns without fear.'" Michael Barone quotes a Guardian columnist to the effect that the war was "a reckless, provocative, dangerous, lawless piece of unilateral arrogance," that nonetheless brought about a wonderful outcome, "which would not have been achieved at all, or so quickly, by the means that the critics advocated, right though they were" in most cases. Tina Brown, too, displays this syndrome.