According to the geniuses who misled Americans into supporting the war against Iraq, the fighting should have been over a long time ago. The dancing in the streets should have long ago blossomed into a democracy Thomas Jefferson would have been proud of. The soothing effects should have spread throughout the Middle East.

Unfortunately, reality trumps barnyard fertilizer. As I write this, 1,002 Americans have died, and the Pentagon admits that attacks are now running more than 600 a month against coalition forces. By the time you read this, it’s almost certain that more Americans will have died. That’s a war that’s a long way from being over.

As for the dancing in the streets, the only dancing I’ve seen is when Iraqis are celebrating the deaths of Americans.

Not only did the Bush administration mislead the country, its execution of the war and the occupation has been abysmal. If dishonesty and incompetence are not enough to persuade Americans to change administrations, then I wouldn’t bet a lot on the future of this country.

A republic is supposed to work this way: We elect officials, and until the next election, they govern us. The people are then supposed to evaluate their performance. If the people are satisfied, they can re-elect them. If not, the people can dump them out of office. There really is no need for term limits. If the American people have the brains and the will, they can limit terms by voting incumbents out of office.

It seems to me that our election process has turned into a popularity contest. Candidates act like celebrities, with hordes of marketing specialists and publicists (people who mislead people for a living), while the people, rather than acting like citizens, act like fans of rock stars.

Under our system, sovereignty and political power rest with the people, not with the government or the media. Political power, however, is a peculiar thing. It exists only if it’s exercised; if it is not used, it ceases to exist.

The founders of this republic did not intend for every Tom, Dick and Harry to vote. They intended that the vote would be limited to serious citizens, people who took an interest in public affairs, who kept themselves informed and would be in a position to fairly evaluate the performance of their public servants. That’s the serious duty of being a citizen.

If instead the people choose to pursue their own selfish interests, pay scant attention to public affairs and look upon an election as only an excuse to extract a promise of goodies, then all kinds of riffraff, crooks, mountebanks and idiots will fill up the public offices.

Every elected official is a servant, not a master. The heel-clicking, hat-doffing, fawning, yassur-bossman attitude some Americans display toward public officials is odious and inappropriate for a free republic. A public servant, including the president, is entitled to common courtesy — no more, no less. Officeholders are only citizens on temporary duty. That’s why that greatest of all Americans, George Washington, said the only title the president needed was "Mr."

Freedom is not a gift of God. It has to be earned. If the people become too lazy to earn it, they will lose it. History is full of examples.

Right now, our country is not in good shape. It is tremendously in debt — running a deficit of half a trillion dollars — is exporting jobs instead of products, is handing out favors to the very rich like the most corrupt of kings and has been bogged down in a war that will produce zero benefits even if we win it.

The old saying that people in a free society get the kind of government they deserve can be either a curse or a blessing. It depends on us, the people, who have the final responsibility for government in this country. Let’s not blow a good thing.

Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years, reporting on everything from sports to politics. From 1969—71, he worked as a campaign staffer for gubernatorial, senatorial and congressional races in several states. He was an editor, assistant to the publisher, and columnist for the Orlando Sentinel from 1971 to 2001. He now writes a syndicated column which is carried on Reese served two years active duty in the U.S. Army as a tank gunner. Write to Charley Reese at P.O. Box 2446, Orlando, FL 32802.