Blur Circle

Steve Yost's weblog
November 14, 2004
the difference between democracy and a tyrant

After reading Bush's badly misguided "we'll hold their feet to the fire" quote from the Blair/Bush news conference in so many news sources, I had to find the full text to see the full context. And it's not much better -- in fact it's worse. Here's a longer excerpt of Bush's comment (my emphasis):

But if you're true to democracy you'll listen to the people, not to your own desires. If you're true to democracy, you'll do what the people want you to do. That's the difference between democracy and a tyrant.

And the Palestinians may decide to elect a real strong personality, but we'll hold their feet to the fire to make sure that democracy prevails, that there are free elections. And if they don't - the people of the Palestinian territory don't like the way this person is responding to their needs, they will vote him or her out.

So, at first I imagined Bush merely suffered a badly executed chain of associative language:
"hold elections" => "we'll hold [them to it]" (hmm, too bluntly coercive, better use a colorful 'Texas' phrase here) => "we'll hold their feet to the fire"
resulting in an evocation of Cortez's torture of the Aztec priest to extract from him the location of treasure. It could be that the origin of that idiomatic phrase is more obscure than I think, but in any case it's a terrible choice of image in such a volatile situation. But when Bush follows that with what sounds like the beginning of a threat "And if they don't" , then corrects with an image of democracy in action, it's confirmed for me. Even given the best possible interepretation of motives -- and the image of worldwide democracy eliminating war is a nice one, if unrealistic -- at best, this kind of horrendously undiplomatic speechmaking is a huge problem.

November 14, 2004 08:32 AM