Wednesday, February 23, 2005

The town window test

Dubya is in Germany today, in Mainz. He took questions from a small group of former participants in a USA-Germany exchange program. Someone asked him about his latest much hyped reading material:

Q Okay, once again, welcome. Mr. President, you said in a recent interview with The Washington Times that if people want to get a glimpse of how you think about foreign policy, they should read The Case for Democracy, by Netan Sharansky. In this book, as you know, Sharansky suggests the so-called town square test.


Q Can a person walk into the middle of the town square and express his or her views without fearing arrest or physical harm. My question for you: Did Sharansky's book have influence on your approach toward Russia?

His answer was drivel ("...One of the interesting things about being with a Chancellor, or in Putin's case, a President, is that we share something: We make decisions") but leave that aside and consider instead the status of Town Square Test in Mainz today:

[Financial Times] "In a contemporary echo of the Lady Godiva legend, anyone living on the route of the presidential motorcade is being discouraged from taking a peek at the 60- to 80-strong column of vehicles conveying the US president. In police leaflets, residents have been asked to keep their windows shut and stay clear of balconies 'to avoid misunderstandings'."

So we propose a rival test to Sharansky's; following the FT writers, let's call it the Godiva test: to assess the state of democracy in a country, is a member of the public allowed to look at its head of state?

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