The Absolute in Moderation
Suppose the Brits had won the Revolutionary War. Suppose King George III imposed one of his German cousins on us as monarch. Suppose that King Karl I of Upper and Lower Canada and the Royal Colonies of America spoke English with a Prussian accent and much preferred Berlin to his palace in Philadelphia. Suppose Karl appointed America’s government, including members of the legislature. Suppose even mentioning freedom of speech, let alone practicing it, got you into deep doodoo with the Royal Constabulary--chains and chopping blocks kind of doodoo.
This scenerio came to mind as I was watching several amiable interviews last week with the charming King Abdullah II of Jordan and his lovely consort, Queen Rania, who were in town for the General Assembly opening. Abdullah is a real favorite in America. He was schooled and militarized here and at Sandhurst in Britain and speaks in an attractive combination of colloquial American and polished British English. His dad, the late King Hussein, was likwise popular in in the states. Hussein even had an American wife whose good works and snazzy wardrobe were regularly publicized by Barbara Walters and such.
Though the Jordanian monarchy claims a line back to Mohammed himself, this particular branch was installed by the Brits to see to their interests in the territory of Trans Jordan, one of the countries they invented when the Ottoman Empire collapsed. If you recall your Lawrence of Arabia stuff, the Brits got the Arabs to fight against the Turks in World War I by promising them independence. They, of course, betrayed that promise and installed various puppet rulers around the Middle East whose glance turned more to Mayfair than Mecca.
Whenever members of the now pro-American Hashemite house appear before our politicians or on our media, it’s polite that a certain word never be mentioned. That also goes for the Saud family as well as the various emirs and sultans of the Gulf states. The word is democracy. Their nations don’t have it and they don't like to talk about the fact that they prefer absolute dynastic rule instead.
If we applied dictionary definitions to our usages, these royals would properly be termed despots. But then we supposedly freedom-loving Americans would be asking ourselves why we pal around with their like. To avoid such embarrassment, we abandon Funk & Wagnalls and call them moderates instead. Except to tea baggers and other yahoos, moderate is a nicely anodyne word. I mean, who’s opposed to moderation?
We constantly urge people in that part of the world to abandon extremism and model themselves on these moderates. They shrug, not particular caring whether moderates or fanatics stone the adulterers and lop off the limbs of thieves.
Meanwhile in the genuinely democratic nation of Venezuela they had genuinely free and fair elections on Sunday which handily returned the pro-government parties to power with a 70 percent turnout. Nevertheless, Washington labels Venezuela “extremist” and “undemocratic.” It accuses its president, who has twice the domestic popularily of Obama, of being a detested dictator who steals elections by buying the votes of the poor majority with jobs, schools, health care, housing and such.
It should be obvious that the reason that King Abdullah of Jordan is a “moderate” but President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela is an "autocrat" is the the former accepts American “leadership” while the latter insists that Venezuelans lead Venezuela. Mr. Funk and Mr. Wagnalls must be spinning in their sarcophagi.