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.