Archive for Sunday, June 20, 2004

China needs U.S. pressure for change

June 20, 2004

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— Toying with his lunch, Liu Junning is relaxed as he describes the price of advocating democracy in China. In a calm voice, with no hint of fear or bitterness, he describes what happened to him a bit over three years ago when Communist Party authorities objected to an article the young political scientist had published about the need for more reform and competition in the government of this sprawling nation.

"I was expelled from the Chinese Academy of Social Science," Liu began. "I was told I could no longer have students. There would be no raises. I will not get an apartment of my own. I may not travel to Hong Kong or Taiwan for conferences." More recently, when an article of his turned up on a controversial Web site, a party newspaper listed his name in an article about intellectuals suspected of spying for Taiwan.

Liu has friends in the loosely organized democracy movement -- scattered individuals with no formal structure, who communicate mainly via the Internet -- who have been jailed or disappeared, so he does not regard himself as some kind of martyr.

But he has a message for those in the West, including presidential candidates Bush and Kerry, who seem to suggest that China is evolving naturally and perhaps even inevitably toward democracy.

Neither open markets nor local elections of preselected party loyalists will lead inevitably to a government accountable to the people, he says. "It will take great effort, from both inside China and outside." External pressure from the United States remains vital, he says, first because it signals to democrats like himself that "we are not alone" and second, because America "is the only country that will provide asylum if we are threatened. That is our safety net."

Listening to this quiet young man, you are reminded why the United States is a vital force for freedom in the world -- and why the push for democracy has to remain a principle of our foreign policy.

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And speaking of democracy, one of its great American practitioners was lost last week with the death at age 65 of Bob Teeter, the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based pollster who was an example to his profession and a trusted friend to many of us in political journalism. Bob was still in his 20s when I met him as an adviser to the late George Romney, the governor of Michigan, but you could already see the traits that set him apart from most in his trade.

A product of a classic Midwest small town, Coldwater, Mich., equipped with a first-class liberal arts education from Albion College, he was as brimming with idealism as many political operatives are drenched in cynicism. He also had a sunny disposition and a sense of humor that savored the rich feisty characters in politics more than the grim strivers. He loved the experiences he shared with Ohio's earthy four-term Gov. Jim Rhodes, but his reaction on being introduced to the high command of the Nixon White House was prescient. "I wish," he said, "just one of those guys sounded as if he'd ever sat down and read the Constitution."

Over the years, we probably shared as many dinners and conversations about politics as I enjoyed with any operative in either party. Every time, my perspective was changed -- and improved -- by something he said. As his longtime friend, Peter Hart, a Democratic pollster with whom Teeter shared responsibility in recent years for the NBC News-Wall Street Journal Poll, once remarked, "Bob keeps you focused on what counts -- and not out chasing rabbits."

For him, what counted was good government -- and the integrity of the candidates he helped. From Romney and his successor, Bill Milliken, to George H.W. Bush, whose final campaign Bob ran, he searched for and found people who cared about public service and not just enhancing a career.

His response to his final challenge, the cancer that ultimately killed him, was completely in keeping with his whole approach to life. I last saw him at the Gridiron Dinner in March, escorting his wife, Betsy, as guests of his great friend, Al Hunt of The Wall Street Journal. I never saw a smile leave his face, no matter what his thoughts. The chemotherapy had left him bare on top -- and looking a lot like his old pal from the Ford administration, Dick Cheney. Bob said, "I warned Cheney (who was a speaker that night) that if anybody else walked up and said, 'How are you, Mr. Vice President,' I was going to tell them to go to hell. I've got a reputation to protect." He left us with an enviable reputation -- and a hoard of good memories.




David Broder is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group.

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