By Michael Arvey
"Come to the edge," he said.
They said, "We are afraid."
"Come to the edge," he said.
He pushed them...
And they flew.
- Peter McWilliams
In a free trade (a euphemistic catch phrase for something
far less sweet sounding) speech he gave to Australia's Parliament
on October 23, President George Bush replied to a Green Senator's's
angry heckles by retorting, "I love free speech." Perhaps
as much as he loves free trade?
To listen to the president of the U.S. has become a grating
trial in the art of patience, an ineluctable life lesson in
credibility and discernment. Not long ago the war in Iraq
brought us warnings regarding the words we employ, which were
delivered by Donald Rumsfeld, Ari Fleischer and John Ashcroft.
Be careful what you say. Be afraid. The enemy seeks to destroy
our freedoms. Conquer abroad, repress at home.
Now George Bush has personally joined the free speech fray,
admonishing Sen. Edward Kennedy for criticizing Bush's Iraqi
debacle. In a September 21 interview with Fox News anchorman
Brit Hume, Bush said, "I don't mind people trying to pick
apart my policies, and that's fine and that's fair game. But
you know, I don't think we're serving our nation well by allowing
the discourse to become so uncivil that people say - use words
that they shouldn't be using." Bush further indicated he doesn't
get news from the news media, but from his "objective" staff.
From the outset of the Iraq war, the Bush administration
has tried to freeze free speech. But if impending war and
post-war criticism aren't pressing and appropriate times for
a free allowance of speech, then when and in what circumstance
would it be? Should a citizenry feign patriotic zeal and support
a president and policies that are clearly and disingenuously
deceptive and wrong?
George Bush loves free speech so much that he allowed, on
his watch, students at Ohio State University to be warned
against protesting during Bush's June 14, 2002 commencement
address. According to the Columbus Dispatch (6/15/02),
"Graduates had been warned during rehearsal on Thursday that
they faced arrest if - as was rumored - some stood up and
turned their backs on Bush during his speech." On the day
of the commencement, an announcer told the graduates that
"anyone demonstrating or heckling would be subject to expulsion
and arrest. The announcer urged that Bush be greeted with
a 'thunderous' ovation." (AP 6/14/02) Geesh, talk about putting
thunder in your mouth.
One of Bush's ludicrous but finest deceptions is described
by former U.S. attorney-general Ramsey Clark: "Why did the
White House object to the interview with President Saddam
Hussein by Dan Rather, seek to interject rebuttal and rebuke
at different points in the interview, and then complain that
a person who lies should not be allowed in the media?" Carefully
survey the concluding question; give an ear to the roaring
The Bush administration has masterminded a climate of fear
designed to squelch even purely imagistic dissent and opposition.
One of the most disturbing free speech episodes surrounding
the Iraq war protests was the arrest of a 60-year-old lawyer
at an Albany, New York mall. His crime? He wore a T-shirt
that on one side read, "Give Peace a Chance" and on the other
side, "Peace on Earth." Told to either leave the mall or to
remove the T-shirt, he refused. Hence, his imminent arrest.
Apparently the Christmas holidays are now the only time to
What's the difference between Bush's speeches to the folks
back home and to the Australian Federal Parliament? In Australia,
he and his entourage didn't have the leeway or means to silence
dissent, or to establish a free speech zone outside of the
Parliament building as we have witnessed them do in the U.S.
Out of sight, out of mind, behind cordoned-off barriers. Free
speech is of little use if no one can hear it. As others have
noted, including Congressman Barney Frank, the entire landmass
of this country is supposed to be a free speech zone. When
the Senator yelled out at Bush, Bush had no choice but to
swoon with a loquacious "I love free speech" statement.
As commentator Jennifer Van Gergen in a Truthout
article (10/15/02) correctly points out, "The silencing of
dissent under the PATRIOT Act and such related measures as
First Amendment Zones are anathema to free speech and assembly."
Bush's utterance is just another instance on a long boat ride
up a sludgy river of doublespeak. Ah, what the heckling: if
President Bush wants to know what's up in the land of the
free, he may speak to this unsanctioned dissenter's backside
on any subject he cares to - I'll even keep it a secret. Promise.