Mr. President…Democracy Is As Democracy Does

When the President characterizes the quest to bring freedom and democracy to the world as the fundamental struggle confronting civilization, I can’t help but think of the Michael Jackson song…the one that says “I’m starting with the man in the mirror”. Mr. President, may I sincerely suggest you take a look?


Commentary By: Daniel DiRito

I like it when a simple situation can provide insight into more complex matters…and a new article in the Washington Post delivers the goods. It has long been thought that the Bush administration has sought to orchestrate events…big and small…for political advantage. In fact, if one has read much of what has been written about Karl Rove since his announced departure, the Bush administration rarely missed an opportunity to exploit an event for partisan gain.

The latest example involves a lawsuit filed by two individuals who were ejected from a Bush event because they wore objectionable clothing that wasn’t favorable to the President. As a byproduct of that lawsuit, the Bush administration was forced to release an instruction manual which details the measures taken to insure that presidential appearances were partisan events…events where protest and dissent were quickly quashed.

In viewing some of the detail contained in that document, one is able to see the degree to which this administration was willing to circumvent opposing views. It also helps explain the concerns that this President has chosen to isolate himself from those who do not share his vision or his views…leaving him unaware of the other relevant arguments and convinced that his thoughts are not only mainstream; they are majority mandates that must be maintained.

Not that they’re worried or anything. But the White House evidently leaves little to chance when it comes to protests within eyesight of the president. As in, it doesn’t want any.

A White House manual that came to light recently gives presidential advance staffers extensive instructions in the art of “deterring potential protestors” from President Bush’s public appearances around the country.

Among other things, any event must be open only to those with tickets tightly controlled by organizers. Those entering must be screened in case they are hiding secret signs. Any anti-Bush demonstrators who manage to get in anyway should be shouted down by “rally squads” stationed in strategic locations. And if that does not work, they should be thrown out.

But that does not mean the White House is against dissent – just so long as the president does not see it. In fact, the manual outlines a specific system for those who disagree with the president to voice their views. It directs the White House advance staff to ask local police “to designate a protest area where demonstrators can be placed, preferably not in the view of the event site or motorcade route.”

The “Presidential Advance Manual,” dated October 2002 with the stamp “Sensitive – Do Not Copy,” was released under subpoena to the American Civil Liberties Union as part of a lawsuit filed on behalf of two people arrested for refusing to cover their anti-Bush T-shirts at a Fourth of July speech at the West Virginia State Capitol in 2004.

The manual demonstrates “that the White House has a policy of excluding and/or attempting to squelch dissenting viewpoints from presidential events,” said ACLU lawyer Jonathan Miller. “Individuals should have the right to express their opinion to the president, even if it’s not a favorable one.”

I find it interesting that a man who likes to fashion himself as a champion of freedom and democracy has so little regard for enabling it…when it may take the form of dissent…and therefore not agree with his vision of it. Even more ironic is the fact that the President, just this week, chose to label himself as a dissident. Its difficult to avoid the contradictions.

As to providing insight into more complex matters, I can’t help but wonder what can be discerned about other policies enacted by the White House that have yet to be exposed. I also can’t help but think back to the presidency of Richard Nixon…the last occupant of the Oval Office who had a compulsive streak with regard to those whom he regarded as his opponents.

As I allow myself to explore the possibilities, I find no comfort in my thoughts. Permit me to offer some plausible concerns. There are many. They include the surveillance programs discussed in the NSA scandal and subsequently monitored by the FISA court, issues of torture with regard to enemy combatants, the holding of prisoners in Guantanamo and other unidentified facilities without due process, the possibility that U.S. Attorneys were fired for failing to better serve the partisan goals of the GOP, the institution of signing statements designed to modify legislation which fails to meet with the President’s favor, and the outing of Valerie Plame in order to discredit her husband’s contentions with regards to WMD’s and the intelligence used to justify the invasion of Iraq.

Let’s look at one particular item. With the recent expansion of the surveillance measures allowed under the FISA court…a move the Bush administration argued was essential to combat terrorism…we clearly see an area vulnerable to the abuses of power one might expect from a leader who is obsessed with conformity and who has a history of seeking to silence those who would undermine his message (as evidenced by the “manual”.

Yes, we can all agree that it is important to prevent terrorist attacks…but just this week we saw the Pentagon cancel the TALON program…an anti-terror database used to gather information…information that included the activities of anti-war groups as well as LGBT advocacy organizations…groups clearly unrelated to the purpose underlying the establishment of the program. Again, if abuse exists in this program, what other abuses are taking place that we have yet to uncover?

The questions raised by this and other examples are many and they all center on concerns about the misuse of power. If a president is willing to create a manual to manage and monitor those who attend his public appearances…and such activities typify a mentality prone to pushing the partisan envelope…one must wonder what other measures have been established…or what other legitimate programs have been hijacked in order to carry out other similar activities.

Once one begins to explore this area of thought, another concern emerges…the one that became known as “stonewalling” during the Nixon years…and is now being called “executive privilege” by the Bush administration. Let’s again look at the contradictions.

Here we have a President who has made the exportation of freedom and democracy the flagship of his administration…and at the same time…here at home…he has made it a practice to circumvent both under the guise of national security. Am I alone in seeing the inconsistencies? I struggle to understand a man who would…on the one hand…be willing to risk his legacy upon a doctrine of creating democracies around the world and accepting of the likelihood that history will be unkind in recounting his actions …and then on the other hand, be willing to approach issues of established democratic process at home with such disdain and a seeming disregard for all that he so firmly and fervently espouses.

If he has done no wrong, then no wrong can come from allowing the democratic process to verify as much. In doing so, would he not be demonstrating his commitment to the form of government he insists can bring peace and prosperity to the world? When his actions seem just the opposite, one must view the dissonance with skepticism…all the while looking for a palatable explanation. Stepping back, his actions with regard to public appearances and the creation of a manual offer the necessary blocks upon which to build a reasoned rationale.

The President’s apologists would contend that his actions at home are simply a reasonable response to the partisan proclivities of his detractors which have been designed to cast disfavor on the President and the GOP. In the absence of his unpopular and controversial actions with regard to Iraq, I might accept that argument…an argument that could sensibly conclude that no president should do that which is detrimental to his retention of power…especially if it is part and parcel of a partisan effort to undermine his support.

Unfortunately, this President casts himself as a man of principle and conviction…arguing that while his actions in Iraq may be unpopular with the voting public, they are the right thing to do. Is it logical for a man of this ilk to take a completely opposite approach at home? If democracy is the holy grail for the people of Iraq and other oppressed nations, why subvert it here in the United States? If the President has done no wrong, why not let the democratic process do what it does best…expose truth…and therefore illuminate the promise of a free and open society.

The fact that he hasn’t and the fact that he continues to employ efforts to obstruct and obfuscate serve to invalidate his intentions…leaving objective observers suspicious as to his sincerity. Let me be clear…I’m not suggesting that a President should never refuse to cooperate with Congress…but in looking at the Bush administration it becomes a question of degree. Clearly, this President has made it a matter of practice…a quantitative fact which must be viewed in its proper historical context…leaving one doubtful and disturbed by the persistent patterns.

In the final analysis, the difference between the activities of the Bush administration and those of Richard Nixon are little more than the fact that the Bush administration has had the benefit of a war on terror upon which it has been able to legally piggyback it’s efforts to monitor and manage those who are viewed as opponents. Regardless, the intentions and the abuses which have resulted are no less heinous and no less indicative of a man obsessed with maintaining power and silencing or stifling those who might seek to unseat him.

When the President characterizes the quest to bring freedom and democracy to the world as the fundamental struggle confronting civilization, I can’t help but think of the Michael Jackson song…the one that says “I’m starting with the man in the mirror”. Mr. President, may I sincerely suggest you take a look?

Cross-posted at Thought Theater

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2007 by Daniel DiRito |

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