Matt Yglesias has (justly) come under fire for his recent posts arguing against civil rights protections for gay people on the basis of conservertarian bromides that weren’t persuasive when the Supreme Court used them to strike down maximum hours laws in 1905, and for his criticism of John Kerry’s acceptance speech for not being a Brookings Institute position paper (see also David Brooks today for the same argument, which should tell you all you need to know about its usefulness.) But he really gets it right here:
Look, look, it is fun to get all upset about Democrats who’ll accept a “stable” Iraq rather than a “democratic” one, but you’ve got to ask yourself a thing or two. Would I rather have a stable Iraq or would I rather have a failed state Iraq that the president of the United States calls a democracy? This is your choice. If you like what’s behind door number two (i.e., Afghanistan) then you really ought to vote for George W. Bush. He’s really good at talking about democracy-promotion. Way better than John Kerry. The only Democrat who even gets the text in the right neighborhood is Joe Biden and his delivery is nothing compared to Bush’s. And not only is Bush good at talking about democracy promotion, he’s really good at calling Afghanistan a democracy, and really, really good at pretending that Baathist hitman Iyad Allawi is an emerging liberal democrat.
George W. Bush for President: Because He’ll Keep You Detatched From Reality.
To prove MY’s point, Robert Tagorda argues that calling failed states democratic is what really matters:
With Bush, we know that he strives to promote democracy. We can debate whether
he actually lives up to this goal. We can point out where he actually succeeds
and where he only pays lip service. But, with Kerry, we know very little about
what he ultimately wants to do with Iraq.
Uh, actually, we do not know that Bush “strives to promote democracy.” In fact, he does no such thing. He just talks about it, which to any non-warblogger is completely beside the point. If you look at what he’s doing, it’s basically nothing. Afghanistan isn’t going to become a democracy, and neither will Iraq. That’s Matt’s point; calling failed states “democracies” does not count as “striving to promote democracy.”
Moreover, we know exactly where Kerry stands on the theoretical idea of a liberal democratic Iraq–he’s an favor of it. Who isn’t? What Kerry understands is that Iraq was an exceptionally unlikely candidate for democracy before Bush’s quarter-assed reconstruction effort, let alone now, and a stable state is preferable to a failed state. Kerry just has the intellectual integrity not to pretend that Iraq is going to become democratic just because one really wishes it would be, and saying that you’re in favor of democracy is a worthless banality that does nothing to increase the chances that Iraq will become one. It might be more politically prudent for Kerry to talk more about democracy, but in terms of policy it’s irrelevant.