Bush, Jesus, and Egypt: How Democrats, Republicans, and Christianity Are Doing in the Middle East
by Gregory C. Cochran
In speaking about the Democrat Party, Gov. Mitch Daniels in his recent speech to CPAC said, “Our opponents are better at nastiness than we will ever be. It comes naturally. Power to them is everything, so there’s nothing they won’t say to get it.” Believe it or not, he is speaking of something fundamental to the Democrat Party—not the nastiness. I don’t mean here either to slander the Democrat Party or exalt the Republican. I hope only to explain the difference between the two parties and, in so doing, demonstrate how the two approaches are being played out in the Middle East. In other words, I want us to understand better the political movements in America and Egypt. History is offering us a teachable moment through current affairs in Egypt.
Many Republicans share Gov. Daniels’ disdain for democrats, while many democrats, likewise, despise the republican tendency to resist change and to “impose” values on others. While nastiness is not endemic to either party, the other factors—a thirst for power by democrats and an imposition of values by republicans—are quite natural to the respective political parties.
Here is what I mean. By nature, democrats support democracy, meaning democrats believe in a majority rule. What has to happen for the democrats to rule, then, is for the democrats to be the majority. Thus, they naturally are quite interested in public opinion. They will gravitate toward offices and institutions (media, academia) which shape public opinion because public opinion determines the rule of law in a democracy.
Republicans, on the other hand, hold primarily to the principle of the rule of law, a principle which says that certain things are never right regardless of what 51% of the people say. Republicans, typically, are more conservative, in the sense that they are quite interested in preserving (or conserving) traditional beliefs and instruments which have been effective in the past. By nature, conservatives aren’t as adept at stirring up the masses like democrats because they aren’t of the opinion that their causes are right or wrong based on the percentages of people who agree with them. They don’t need majority support, they have the constitution.
I understand that I am oversimplifying and painting with very broad strokes in these descriptions of democrats and republicans. Yet, at root, these are valid distinctions. They are important distinctions. The case of the revolution in Egypt brings out these distinctions clearly. The New York Times has an article posted concerning George W. Bush’s role in stirring up democracy in the Middle East. Yes, even the New York Times is able to see that President Bush—against public opinion—was right to assert that democracy would catch on in the Middle East.
Bush, of course, was a Republican. Yet, he advocated for democracy in the Middle East. The New York Times article explains that President Bush—though advocating for democracy in Iraq and throughout the Middle East—was no fan of a “mere” democracy. A mere democracy is one in which there is actually 51% rule. Bush opposed such “democracies” on the basis that certain principles must exist in any democracy—such as the freedom of speech, a free press, and freedom of religion. As a result, President Bush did not recognize Hamas as a legitimate democratic government, even though they were elected by 51% of the inhabitants of Gaza. In Bush’s understanding of a democracy, terrorists organizations could not rightly rule. The reason, of course, was that Bush—a republican—believed in a democratic republic, not in a mere democracy. This is what another New York Times writer meant when he said,
The left has wrongly distilled President Bush’s emphasis on democracy into emphasis on elections, or on movements free of American influence. Bush rejected both those concepts. For Bush, like Churchill, democracy was a means to enable freedom; the ballot box was not the silver bullet.
So, President Bush advocated for an American democracy, a democratic republic in which a mere majority rule is not enough for a stable government. There are checks and balances, even for the 51% majority, and that is a very good thing. As we know, there was once a 51% majority who thought slavery was acceptable, and there was once a 51% majority who cried, “Crucify him! Crucify him.” Both were wrong. Even the majority is wrong on occasion. Inalienable rights (such as the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness) must be protected by law despite public opinion.
This reality brings us to the present state of Egypt. Both democrats and republicans have applauded the freedom march of street protestors in Egypt. Yet, both appear concerned about which direction the future march will take. Democrats tend to lean toward accepting whatever government arises out of Egypt as a legitimate government because it is a government of the people. (I know this is oversimplifying again, but leaders in President Obama’s administration have already made statements justifying the Muslim Brotherhood as legitimate governing partners). Republicans are sounding the alarms about the Muslim Brotherhood’s role in Egyptian governance.
The issue in Egypt (as in Iraq) is not whether 51% approve; it is whether there is a legitimate democracy. Already, in the New York Times article mentioned above, you can see the disdain which some democrats have for placing “caveats” on democracies. In other words, the democrat tendency is to accept majority rule, while republicans insist on basic principles of human rights to be enshrined in a constitution which does not rely on a might-makes-right, majority mentality.
Egypt’s future on (a) whether it will be a democracy and (b) exactly what kind of democracy might emerge is still an open question. As an American—and especially as a Christian—I am quite concerned about what will happen next. Even though there is a democracy in Iraq, for example, there is a terrible oppression of Christians there. This post by Rich Lowry explains how, for Christians in Iraq, the democracy there has been a disaster. Something President Bush should not applaud (at least not completely).
According to Lowry, an Iraq-type democracy in Egypt would mean “Lights Out” for Christians in the Middle East. In one sense, his comments hit the mark precisely. Democracy alone is not enough to preserve liberty. Yet, in another sense, let’s hope that he is wrong. There was once a Friday afternoon in which everything turned dark indeed for Christians from the sixth hour to the ninth hour, but three days later, there was a victory over every enemy known to man. The light shone more brightly from that day forward. Sometimes, it seems, there may be darkness just before the dawn. Let’s hope a new day is dawning indeed in Egypt and the Middle East.