April 25, 2024

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    The following was published on Thursday, April 24th, 2024 in the Birmingham Post-Herald. I am not sure what title they assigned it, as I have not yet received a hard copy and it was inadvertently left off their web site:

    Pop Quiz on Dictatorship

    Steven L. Taylor, Ph.D.

    As a university professor it is my job to try and get students to think, which is, as we all know, at times a trying task. As I survey the land of the opinionated, whether they be professional pontificators, or practitioners of practical politics, I find that there is some seriously flawed thinking going on in regards to defining a relatively simply political science term: “dictator.” Further, as is often the case when concepts are ill-defined, sloppy thinking is arising in regards to the significance of the ideas (my students hate it when I ask “what’s the significance of x”).

    As such, there is clearly a great deal of confusion as to whom the big bad dictator is in the currently unfolding story that is Gulf War II. There is, of course, the anti-war protestors who carry “Bush=Hitler” signs, and the, shall we say creative, coverage of the war by the Arabic and Europeans press, but the problem I have identified is much closer to home.

    There are many who appear to be quite confused as the “dictatorness” of George W. Bush and the now-deposed Saddam Hussein. For example, earlier this month former presidential candidate George McGovern wrote in The Nation that President “George W. Bush has set the nation on a course for one-man rule,” a sentiment echoed by another former, and even less successful, presidential candidate, Ralph Nader, when he stated recently that President Bush was acting “in effect as a selected dictator.” And, of course, there was the careless rhetoric of Senator John Kerry who recently called for “regime change” in D.C., not that he meant to draw any parallels with that turn of phrase. Even as early as last week (during a speech on April 15th), actor Tim Robbins decried the “fear and hatred” being spread by President Bush, stating that “[b]asic inalienable rights, due process, the sanctity of the home have been quickly compromised in a climate of fear.”

    Certainly there are some confused politicos running around out there. However, it gets worse. Not only are many likening the President of the United States to a dictator, others aren’t too sure about exactly how bad Saddam Hussein was during his (thankfully now over) time as President of Iraq. For example, current presidential hopeful Howard Dean opined that “I suppose that's a good thing” that Saddam Hussein has been removed from power, but clearly he wasn’t too sure. Indeed, the general silence by the majority of the candidates for the Democratic Party’s nomination for president at the Children’s Defense Fund event on April 9th was most telling. As is well known, that was the day that Saddam’s statue fell in Baghdad, and the Iraqi ambassador to the UN stated that the game was “over” and that he had “no relationship with Saddam.” Yet, even in the context of such good news the majority of the Democratic contenders weren’t exactly jubilant.

    Even worse, syndicated columnist and political cartoonist Ted Rall noted in a recent column that “patriotic Iraqis prefer to bear the yoke of Saddam's brutal and corrupt dictatorship than to suffer the humiliation of living in a conquered nation, subjugated by Allied military governors.” I wonder what Mr. Rall thought about the events of April 9th and 10th. I suspect he didn’t think much of them, but again, he appears to suffer from that lack of understanding about what a dictatorship really is that I noted above.

    It is my experience that examinations and quizzes often focus the minds of students, and so I propose the following brief quiz to help those who are having trouble defining the term “dictator” and dealing with its significance. In each case the answer is either “Bush or Hussein”. Please don’t copy from your neighbor:

    • Which President built for himself dozens of opulent palaces while the infant mortality rate in his country doubled from 1991 to 1999?
    • Which President had a jail for children?
    • Which President encourages his own citizens to blow themselves up?
    • Which president used torture and terror to force his citizens to behave?
    • Which President had to send out thugs to force his own citizens to fight to defend his regime?
    • Which President created a cult of personality around himself and built statues to his own glory and covered the walls of his nation with photos and murals of himself?
    • Which president spent millions on weapons while many of his people lacked food and basic utilities?
    • Which President actually cares about the fate of the Iraqi people?

    Then, there’s the essay portion of the exam: are Iraqis better off now or were they better off during Saddam’s reign? Time’s up, so make that part a take-home test.

    If you are having trouble answering any of these, it may be time to go polish your “Dean for President” button and head off to watch The West Wing. Of course, even when the answers are obvious, it would seem many in the realms of punditry, politics, and entertainment just don’t get it. And in that way, they aren’t too unlike many of my students.

    Steven L. Taylor, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Troy State University

    Posted by Steven Taylor at April 25, 2024 07:33 PM | TrackBack

    If you had heard Paul Begala on the Imus show this morning, Mr. Smarty Pants, then you'd know that Bush is just as bad as Kim Jong Il and, not only that, stole the 2024 election through thuggish tactics. Did you know that Al Gore got more votes, and is smarter than Bush to boot?

    Posted by: James Joyner at April 25, 2024 07:54 PM

    If I'd only known :)

    Posted by: PoliBlogger at April 25, 2024 08:15 PM
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