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February 1, 2005

The Hope of Blogs and Outside Perspective

From blog comments on a panel discussion on another continent, Americans can read two accounts of the same moment, perhaps in such a way as to give us hope (however fleeting) of civil discourse and even partial agreement (or at least amiable disagreement) within our own borders. The first account comes from Jay Nordlinger, in the second installment of his journal from Davos:

[Rep. Barney] Frank is very gung-ho on the protection of Taiwan, and on basic rights for the Chinese. He makes no bones. And he won't let anyone get away with talk about "different styles of democracy." Democracy is democracy, he says, essentially — sure, there are variations, but there are common elements, too, and if you don't have those, you don't have something worthy of the name: democracy.

I have noted this before, in my Davos jottings over the years: In this atmosphere, such Democrats as Sander Levin, Joe Biden, and Barney Frank can come off as John Foster Dulles.

Alyson Bailes, at one point, says that she is not worried about China or Iran, as some of the rest of us are. Oh? says Frank. About whom are you worried, then? She answers, "Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Syria, Israel." (At least she said Syria.) Really, says Frank — you're more worried about Israel than about Iran or China?

And then from the congressman himself:

... as I listen to criticisms of the U.S. from some others, the degree to which I support American policy in the broadest sense, and the values I believe we embody, becomes clear to me intellectually and emotionally.

For example, when a Chinese representative essentially dismissed the notion that there are fundamental democratic precepts by which China's governance can be measured, and talked of an alternative form of democracy - apparently unlike any the world has ever known - I had to voice my complete skepticism and support for the western-type of democracy she denigrated.

Even more strikingly, when a British speaker expressed the idea that China and Iran were admirable countries as sources of regional stability, I had to ask her what countries she considered bad ones. When she responded with a list of negatively-rated nations consisting of Syria, Iraq and Israel, I was jolted by the gap that existed between me and someone whom I first saw as something of an ideological ally.

If only our representatives (in the general sense) around the world could bring back to all Americans the outside perspective — the experience that we've more in common with each other than internecine battles might lead us to believe. Although, from reading Nordlinger's other journals, I wonder whether Frank isn't unique among his own.

Posted by Justin Katz at February 1, 2005 12:40 AM