It’s easy to tune out when a president travels to some faraway country to give a rote speech on democracy. This is a wonderful country. You should be more like us. I won’t be seeing you again, because this country isn’t very important, but maybe the next president will visit. Or the vice president.
And so it was with President Bush in Turkey on Tuesday, except that things this president says about democracy have come to be freighted with a certain irony. Suddenly it’s as easy to pay rapt attention and respond with outrage as it used to be to tune out.
No need to go through the whole speech. It’s worth it just to cite one sentence Bush and his speechwriters saw fit to pass pontifically down to those grubby, primitive, feckless Turks:
“Suppressing dissent only increases radicalism.”
Did Bush learn that here, with protesters forced far from political events? Did he learn it from the members of his Cabinet who say opponents of their policies are unpatriotic -- or even terrorists? Or did he learn it in Iraq, when his forces shut down Moktada al-Sadr’s newspaper, lighting the fuse of an explosive insurgency?
Perhaps he learned it in Turkey, reading it off typed crib notes.
Like many C students, he probably hasn’t learned it at all -- just memorized it long enough to get past his latest oral presentation, and now he’s tuning out again.
If only we could.