Thursday, August 23, 2007

No room for dissent

One of the great strengths of the U.S. is its willingness to tolerate free expression, and especially criticism and dissent. We all benefit from the free flow and careful examination of ideas. It's a shame, however, that the Bush administration does not see things this way. Time and time again, the administration has suppressed dissenting viewpoints. Recently, some of its explicit policies for suppressing dissent were revealed by the ACLU, when it published a copy of the Presidential Advance Manual.

Among other things, the manual makes clear that attendance at Presidential appearances is to be restricted as much as possible to supporters through the selective distribution of tickets. It also directs advance team members to "check for signs or protesters" when admitting attendees and has sections devoted to "preventing demonstrators." Should the odd demonstrator make his or her way into an event, the White House recommends that roaming "rally squads" of either "college/young republican organizations, local athletic teams, and fraternities/sororities" surround, hide, and drown-out the demonstrators. The parallels between the "rally squads" and brown shirts or goon squads are chilling.

The White House sees an obvious gain in the ability to get its message and visuals across without having to respond to others. Undoubtedly, the directive must also be seen as a response to demonstrators who would themselves suppress speech by disrupting public events and shouting the President down. However, the White House has gone far beyond this to suppress even respectful speech.

The policy is wrong on Constitutional grounds; it is in direct contradiction of the first amendment rights to free expression and peaceable assembly. It's also ultimately self-defeating. Arguments are strengthened through criticism. The manual reinforces the notion that this White House exists in and works to maintain a bubble. Beyond this, it reduces the value of the President's own public events by turning them into pure propanda (part of the never-ending political campaign). Rational people catch on to the game and interpret the messages from these events accordingly.


MHC said...

In my eyes, this new White House manual is just as chilling and upsetting as when we found out that Homeland Security, the Pentagon and others like the FBI were spying on domestic groups such as a Quaker church's anti-war discussion group and an LGBT college student organization because they were "threats."

Dave Ribar said...

We've seen these policies in practice--think back to the 2004 Republican cenvention where security removed delegates who dared to show their disagreement with the President.

What's surprising (and chilling) is that the administration would actually distribute these policies in an official manual. It's mind-boggling that someone in the administration didn't spot the obvious contradictions with our Bill of Rights.

Anonymous said...

And President Bush rode Hurricane Katrina right into New Orleans too! Dam what a man and one hellava president!

I believe you need to take a much closer look at history and perhaps you will discover just how very much other presidents, both Democrats and Republicans, covered up and kept from the people. This is standard operating policy. The only difference now is that so much less is able to be hidden giving the appearance that Bush is the Master of the Game. When actually the greatest Masters were both Democrats; LBJohnson and FDRoosevelt.
Just for the record, I am an Independent and on the scales of political views that are some times circulated around the web I usually fall right between the two opposing camps. In other words, I think for myself and judge issues on their merits as I see them benefiting the country and not from the point of view of one or another group. Brenda Bowers

Dave Ribar said...


Don't you think that this is a little different from covering up, which I agree many, many administrations and politicians have done. The manual outlines an explicit plan to suppress of speech and dissent. You could understand this sort of thing in a campaign manual (campaigns get to set the ground rules for their events and invite who they want to invite). But this is an advance manual for ALL of the President's public events.

Maybe something will come out about how some of our former Presidents operated. However, I think that you have to go back to the Nixon administration to see these kinds of tactics used against ordinary dissenters. I agree that the tactics employed by LBJ, Nixon, and some previous Presidents pale in comparison to what's described here. But is that the standard we want to apply?

Again, thanks for reading.