My Letter On behalf of Mrs. Niederer
September 18, 2004
I had the misfortune of witnessing on network television the arrest
of a Mrs. Sue Niederer for speaking out during a speech by the First
Lady. I learned from this report to my dismay that her son was killed
fighting the war in Iraq. I found this spectacle so sad and disturbing
I wept for a minute or two for her and her son and for our democracy.
It made me so angry I was compelled to write a letter to the president.
When I finished with the letter I read it to my mother and she
said, “don’t send it you’ll be on some list”. She was a young adult
during the Nixon administration and remembers the enemies’ list.
I told her if all it took were letters my last three probably put
me on it. I said, “I hope I’m on a list with some cool people”.
Could there be anyone left that is liberal and isn’t on the “list”?
What she said gave me an idea. If there is a “list” I wanted to
be on it. I don’t want to be on the list for the people that the
secret service needs to question about their threatening letters
to the president or the Ashcroft Ridge list of potential Gitmo tenants,
I wanted to be on the list with the Al Frankens, the Danny Glovers,
the Katrina Vanden heuvels, the Moveon.org people, the local folks
that organize the anti-war protests. How hard could it be?
I asked her about Nixon’s enemies list and she told me that all
kinds of ordinary people made Nixon’s list with the Jane Fondas,
and John Lennons, the Martin Luther Kings, and the Kennedys. She
said that once she wrote a letter to Nixon about the war in Vietnam
and a few days later someone from the Committee to Re-elect the
President called and asked her why she changed her party registration
to Democratic. We lived with my grandparents and she was so startled
by the inquiry she asked them how they got her phone number and
they said they would call her back and hung up abruptly. It scared
her because she believed she had been put on the “list” and that’s
how they knew how to find her when she changed parties. I remembered
being a kid and hearing her talk to my grandparents about the “list”
and being very upset about it. People didn’t want to be on Nixon’s
black list then because they were terrified of the possibility that
they’d be a victim of one of his dirty tricks and get audited by
the IRS or worse.
My grandparents always registered Republican but voted Democratic.
That’s what you did in those days if you didn’t want your kids to
go to Vietnam. Philly is working class and Democratic but local
politics in those days was always Republican bully politics where
we lived. Being a registered Republican could be helpful in getting
deferments or getting in the guard to avoid the war in the jungles
of South East Asia. This mentality was pervasive in our community.
You just didn’t register as a Democrat when Nixon was in charge.
If you needed anything from the local government you better be a
Republican. Vote Democratic quietly. Politics was reserved for talk
around the dinner table. In our house you didn’t discuss your democratic
proclivities with anyone on the outside. You might end up on the
Nixon scared people but I think my mother is definitely more frightened
of George Bush. She was watching the report on Mrs. Neirderer’s
arrest with me. We had been talking politics for a few hours before
we turned on the television and saw the report and except for her
comments about the “list” she had been very quiet since. When my
mother gets quiet it’s because she’s nervous. The image of that
distraught mother being handcuffed and dragged away by the police
upset us both but my mom seemed to see something I didn’t, something
from the past.
Nixon’s enemies list is the threshold Bush has crossed to frighten
my mother. She believes there is a “list” and that if I “write any
crazy letters to Bush” I’ll be on it. I really don’t know what ever
came of Nixon’s “list” of ordinary Americans that didn’t agree with
his policies other than eventually it led indirectly to his downfall
so although it may be disconcerting to be added to the Bush enemies
list I don’t think it’s dangerous. Not yet. But I think my mother
So I’ve decided that’s how I can confirm my success. If I get some
creepy call from the republicans I’ll assume I made the “list”.
Making it on the Bush enemies list would be a real test of patriotism
and although I have protested, written letters, have the requisite
Bush Sucks bumper sticker, volunteered for Gore’s campaign, I haven’t
gotten any funny phone calls.
George Bush has a few lists we are aware of. There is the long
list of people that are invited to be in the presence of the President
and First Lady on the campaign trail. Mrs. Neirderer wasn’t on that
list. Then there is the list of people that aren’t liberals, the
list of people who won’t shout questions at his wife at campaign
events, the Billionaires that give him money, the “axis of evil”,
the reasons we invaded Iraq, the soldiers killed and wounded in
Iraq, the excuses for his absence from the National Guard, his reasons
for avoiding military service in Vietnam, Zell Miller’s inane reasons
why John Kerry isn’t fit to be President, the grunts that will take
the fall for the Abu Ghraib scandal for Donald Rumsfeld, who’s next
to be invaded, which Supreme Court Justice’s will vote to stop the
ballot counting in the event of another close election, all of Karl
Rove's lists, etcetera. George W. Bush must have a list of lists.
Maybe there isn’t a list of ordinary Americans furious with George
Bush and his Nixon like corruption enough to get a creepy phone
call or an IRS audit. My mom believes there is one so since she
knows what it’s like to live under a criminal president conducting
an illegal war and ‘dirty tricks’ on his enemies I’m going to take
her word for it and assume there is a list. It is now my duty to
be on George Bush’s enemies list. It’s every liberal’s duty to be
on Bush’s list because as I recall it was Nixon’s personal vendettas
that got him out of the Whitehouse and nearly brought him to justice
There is one thing I want more than anything in this world right
now and that is to see George Bush brought to justice and I’m not
alone so if you’re reading this do your best to join me and Mrs.
Niederer on the Bush list. In the horrifying event that Bush steals
the election again the denizens of the mysterious list will be at
the forefront of his untimely exit from our government into the
abyss of a Nixon like retirement. If the list is big enough he might
deservedly end up in prison where Richard Nixon belonged.
On behalf of Mrs Niederer and her son I wrote this letter to the
president. Because what happened to her and her son is such a serious
subject I composed my letter with the gravity of her situation in
mind and maintained what I believe is a respectful tone in deference
to the office not the man. So here is my first conscious attempt
to make it big with George Bush and take my place in history on
the Bush Black List. I’m waiting by the phone.
Dear Mr. Bush,
Today I witnessed something that compelled me to write to you
again and express my displeasure with your administration. As
I watched the evening news I saw a report about the mother of
a soldier killed in Iraq who was arrested outside an event where
Mrs. Bush was speaking for your re-election campaign. Mrs. Nierderer
was taken away in handcuffs by the police for allegedly disrupting
the event by shouting some questions at the First Lady. She wanted
to know why her son died in this war.
First, I would like to take this opportunity to register my indignation
with your policy of only allowing those that agree completely
with your policies to be present at events in which you or your
surrogates are speaking. Silencing those that wish to protest
your positions is in my opinion un-American. I say it’s un-American
because I was brought up to believe that the difference between
America and those places in the world considered not to be free,
like Iraq for example, is our constitution, specifically our first
amendment, our right to dissent, to express our heartfelt opinions
and to fully participate in our democracy. I hesitate to be so
harsh as to call you un-American but in good conscience I must
be honest about my strong support for our constitutional right
to freedom of expression. I find it shocking that our president
and our vice president find it necessary to sanitize all of their
appearances and require loyalty oaths from those in attendance
while we wage war on the government of Iraq for imposing similar
subjugation on it’s people.
In the future I would hope this unfortunate incident involving
the mother of one of our bravest killed in action would motivate
you to direct those responsible for this policy to reconsider
and provide an adequate platform for others like Mrs. Nierderer
to express themselves at future events. Surely there is a way
to uphold the freedoms so important to Americans while at the
same time allowing for these gatherings to have their intended
participation. Cages called first amendment zones for the loved
ones of those killed in conflict and their supporters or any other
American that have been provided thus far as a solution are as
offensive as no solution at all. I’ve seen the cages we contain
terrorists in and the first amendment zones seem like a larger,
dirtier version of the same.
Since you choose make yourself unavailable to the public be it
through the tradition of the presidential press conference or
to allow the general public to attend your appearances you leave
people like Mrs. Neirderer little choice but to shout out to you
and your representatives putting themselves in peril of arrest
and incarceration. This is a very demeaning and unfair position
for the American people to be in and unprecedented in my memory.
I’ve followed politics closely most of my adult life and don’t
remember any president so distant from the American people.
Your father I recall had press events in which he answered the
questions on the minds of our citizens. You are said to be unquestionably
sure of yourself, such confidence would be refreshing to see exhibited
under the scrutiny of people like Mrs. Neirderer.
You want the American people to believe your supporters when
they say “vote for Bush a strong decisive leader that won’t back
down from terrorists” yet you appear to be terrorized by any American
that disagrees with you. And you have often backed down from any
American that challenges your leadership like this grieving mother
of a soldier you decided to send to war to die. You taunt the
terrorists with tough talk like “bring it on” at your campaign
events yet you make these challenges at events where there is
no chance you’ll be challenged by your own detractors.
I understand the need to have order at an event in which the
President of the United States or the First Lady is speaking but
a few citizens shouting out their passionate disagreement with
war in which lives are being lost daily is not a threat to you
or your spouse’s safety. Mrs. Nierderer obviously meant no harm
and was escorted out without incident only to be arrested outside
the event in front of a group of journalists far from earshot
of anyone in attendance. Since she was outside the building when
the arrest occurred there is no doubt that Mrs. Bush’s speech
was undeterred by her protestations. Mrs. Nierderer appeared only
to be exercising her right to dissent. She appeared to have a
ticket to get into the rally. She also explained to the journalists
gathered outside that she had written to you about her son and
received no response other than a request for a campaign contribution.
There is an irony in this particular aspect of your presidency
that is stark and troubling and this incident draws a dramatic
parallel. It is that this woman’s son was killed in Iraq so that
the people of Iraq might taste the freedom denied by a dictator
is arrested while exercising the very definition of freedom in
America. This arrest was most definitely made because of her views
and not because she was any threat to Mrs. Bush. She was arrested
for speaking out against a war her son lost his life in. Her son
was fighting that war according to you because the people of Iraq
weren’t free to speak out against a tyrant. He died so that America
can bring Democracy to the Iraqi people and his mother was arrested
for exercising Democracy here in America on his behalf.
It will be no surprise to you at this point in my letter when
I say that this war has caused me to feel great shame for my country.
I am against this war. The arrest of Mrs. Neirderer brought increased
feelings of shame to my heart. This over reaction by the police
and other similar incidents I’ve observed and read about frighten
me nearly as much as any potential terrorist attack because should
this be the direction in which we continue I’m afraid we’ll loose
the very freedom our military service members are fighting to
bestow upon the citizens of another nation.
Perhaps it wasn’t just her audacity to protest your wife that
caused her detainment by the police but the content of her words.
It is my understanding that Mrs. Niederer came to the event to
ask a question from one mother to another. The report said that
she wanted to ask Mrs. Bush why your daughters have not enlisted
to assist in this war that so many of our young people have served
so courageously in. I think the question is a legitimate one and
begs an answer. So I ask you President Bush, when will your daughters,
Barbara and Jenna Bush present themselves at the recruiting office
of a branch of this countries military and enlist?
My son served his country proudly as a Marine from 1998-2003
and so I too strongly believe that as our President and as a president
that has sent the sons and daughters of other Americans to war,
that the honorable thing to do, that the responsible thing to
do is to compel your daughters to serve also. You owe it to America
and to the mothers and fathers and sons and daughters that you
have sent to Iraq to send your children there as well. In America
if it's good enough for Mrs Neirderer's son it's good enough for
your daughters. Frankly, I expected that upon their graduation
from college recently we would soon see them both in uniform.
Perhaps the Air National Guard in the footsteps of their father
is the appropriate branch. Although being in the National Guard
isn’t the refuge for the sons and daughters of the affluent that
it used to be the twin's enlistment would surely be a shining
example to all American’s that service in the Guard is an honorable
alternative worthy of the same admiration as Mrs. Neirderer’s
son’s service to country. Perhaps such selfless sacrifice on their
part would appease those Americans that question the honor of
your own service. If they don't serve you could atleast out of
respect for Mrs. Neirderer answer the question. Put me on the
list of Americans that want to know why your daughters aren't
serving in Iraq.
In closing I must express that my heart assures me that you will
intervene in Mrs. Nierderer’s situation and relieve her of further
anguish as I am certain you empathize with her pain and wish her
no more harm. Surely you understand there is nothing worse for
a mother than the agony of losing a child to violence. She has
paid the ultimate price and certainly should be spared from any
legal action against her for her expression of disagreement and
dismay. Her position with the authorities is without question
one in which your assistance and intervention is morally required.
I believe you owe her a personal apology and I hope one will be
I appreciate your attention to this very important matter and
anticipate your response to my correspondence. I thank you in
advance for your prompt reply.
If you would like to speak with me directly feel free to call.
You have my number