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Well, it all depends what you mean by “free.” And, for that matter,
it all depends what you mean by “leader.” By a general consensus, the
free world is the industrial world — although it’s not absolutely
certain why industry should bring freedom. In Scandinavia, the
countries are both industrialized and free, but is that the definition
of freedom?

In Holland, as of just this year, an individual is free to commit
euthanasia. And in case “euthanasia” isn’t a word that comes tripping
off your tongue, it’s what is sometimes called “mercy killing” — that
is, when the perpetrator does not kill for profit or for the fun of it,
but out of “kindness.” A mercy killing is when the killer generally
kills out of pity. Yes, yes, yes. Kindness or pity. Because to allow
the victim to continue to suffer would be unkind, plain and simple. You
heard me. So you kill him to make things easier for him and to end his
suffering. This is another kind of freedom.

So the leader of the free world is the leader of the strongest state
that could be classified as “free.” Freedom, in this case, is limited
to a rather small number of nations, usually to be found in Europe and
North America. And, then again, all free countries aren’t led
democratically, there being another form of government called autocracy
– which I won’t bother to define, except to say that it’s got nothing
to do with democracy.

As I say, anyway, America is the leader of the free world. But who
is the leader of America? As I write, this is a real puzzle, for the
recent presidential election ended in a dead heat — for the first time
in the history of this great democratic country. For the time being,
we’re trying to work this out, but it’s not that simple. Even when the
Civil War was over, we had to wait until the election of Rutherford B.
Hayes in 1877 when the decision was finally taken to withdraw Union
troops from the defeated Confederacy. The only cheerful element in the
just-completed election of 2000 was that no one — nowhere — suggested
the use of force of any sort to settle the controversy. You must admit
that this is progress of a kind.

But real progress would be if we could reach the end of an election
cycle with no wrangling. No arguing about how many votes to throw out.
No arguing about dimpled chads or dangling chads or pregnant chads. For
a country — the greater part of the population of which had never heard
of chads of any kind, or who thought “Chad” was a backward country in
Africa — this would be a triumph.

But the real triumph would be if the leaders of the free world could
also have freely elected leaders. I mean, if it could have free
elections without an explosion of spectacular wrangling as to who won
what. And we’re going to have to work this one out, perhaps before the
next election.

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