The Spanish Election and Democracy

The reaction to the Spanish election, in which the party of Bush’s ally Aznar was voted out of office, was a litmus test of attitudes toward democracy, and the message I’m getting is not encouraging.

David Brooks: “It was crazy to go ahead with an election a mere three days after the Madrid massacre….. But I do know that reversing course in the wake of a terrorist attack is inexcusable.”

Now, Brooks obviously would not have said this if the Spanish voters had voted correctly — in Israel, terrorist attacks have thrown the election to Likud several times. Since, as Matt Yglesias astutely pointed out, the conservative attacks on the cowardly Spanish voters were just dry runs for attacks at some later date on cowardly Kerry voters, Brooks’ speculation about cancelling or postponing the Spanish election makes you wonder whether a terrorist attack might also lead to an attempt to postpone this year’s Presidential election — especially if it seems that voters might vote “wrong”.

After the tainted 2000 election, and granted what we know about the Bush machine, I think that we should insist in advance that the 2004 election be held, no matter what. Not only that, we should insist that the prescribed Constitutional procedures for recounts and challenges be followed to the letter next time, without an ad hoc Supreme Court intervention. (Considering that the problematic Diebold machines apparently will be used in many states, a contested election seems very likely unless there’s a real landslide, and one wonders whether a post-election struggle — which worked so well for them last time — might not be part of the Republican plan.)

The standard right-wing interpretation of the Spanish vote is that the cowardly Spaniards caved in to terrorism. A more reasonable interpretation (based on the facts) is that the Spaniards rejected the Aznar government’s strategy on terrorism, and especially the dishonesty of the Aznar government’s attempt to convince the voters that the bombing was done by the Basques. In other words, as Krugman said — in the Spanish election, democracy worked: “By voting for a new government, in other words, the Spaniards were enforcing the accountability that is the essence of democracy.”

However, there is an anti-popular theory of democracy which says that democracy cannot be allowed to be harmed by the wrongheadedness of “temporary majorities”, and I think that that is what is going on with the conservative commentators. This theory also says that, by and large, the electorate really is not able to understand the larger issues and really do not need to be told the truth.

Fortunately, the Spanish do not believe that, nor do the Poles (judging by some things their President said). But perhaps this is because they are new to democracy, and thus overenthusiastic and lacking in sophistication.

In America, the official conservative story is that what Bush said before the war doesn’t make any difference any more. That was then. When they figure out what they were trying to do and why they did it, they’ll tell us. Or something like that.

In the U.S., everything works against popular democracy: media concentration, money in politics, experts at “engineering consent” like Karl Rove, and the anti-democratic convictions of the elite. We’re definitely fighting an uphill battle. Demanding the truth might be the place to start.

(Documentation here, including a bunch of links about the Iraq lies.)