In his May 22 missive, columnist David Brooks hails “Guardian States” (read: authoritarian regimes) over democracies he thinks have grown dysfunctional. He suggests we harness “Lee Kuan Yew means to achieve Jeffersonian ends.”
Lee’s Singapore is his model. As its founding father, Lee persecuted political rivals to bankruptcy, criminalized protests and quashed public expression. He paid his top cabinet officials more than $1 million a year, allowed political elites from neighboring Southeast Asia (Burma’s junta leaders included) to park billions in ill-gotten gains in Singaporean banks, steadfastly resisted multiparty democracy and handed power to his son.
Consider how The Tribune might have looked if SLO were Lee’s Singapore. Citizens’ groups opposed to Cal Poly’s dorm plan would stand accused of illegal political activity, school funding decisions would not be put to a vote and references to SWAT team deployments and abductions would be absent, having been deemed detrimental to social harmony.
America has many cities that are far more creative, vibrant and democratic than Singapore. Brooks’ opinion that a dictatorship offers a “charismatic” alternative is unsavory. Yet in a real democratic society, even bad ideas get a hearing.
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