Mistakes of democracy

July 22, 2011

One of the most interesting posts on Middle East expert Juan
Cole's extensive blog is his advice
to fledgling Arab democracies on how to build a democracy. He bases his advice
on ten mistakes that he thinks Americans have made in the formation and
perpetuation of our democracy.

For example, at this formative moment, Arab nations can
avoid television advertisements for and against candidates; they can set a day
for free elections that is fair to working people (Tuesdays were enacted in the
United States, Cole argues, to discourage
people from voting); they can enact a bill of rights that has updated
understandings of technology and the kinds of interferences that governments
can make in the lives of citizens.

Cole's litany of what has gone wrong with American
democracy--our enormous prison population and our capitulation to the economic
interests of the wealthy top among them--is depressing, but it behooves us to
listen. "You are young," Cole says to the Arab world, "and you still weep at
the thought of freedom, and of those who died for it." If the Arab world is
able to create strong and free democracies, we will have much to learn from
them.