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December 16, 2003
It's About Freedom

I've been thinking about the USofA and the growing perception that our liberties are being curtailed unnecessarily and unconstitutionally.

I'm going to ramble for a while and, honestly, I suggest you just go read something else if you were looking for today's news or intelligent conclusions drawn from well-reasoned arguments. (I started to use that "cut-away" feature to hide some of this very long post. I know you're supposed to because it makes your blog page look tidy, but I'm not a tidy thinker and I don't see any real point in pretending otherwise.)

Anyhow. Is what we're seeing today really post-9/11 liberty infringement and are the police under orders to smack us all into line, or are the protesters who are objecting to the treatment they're receiving actually going too far?

Or is it a bit of both?

I don't doubt that a group of protesters underestimates how intimidating a marching, screaming, banner-waving mob can look. Individually, I'd imagine that almost none of those people would dream of committing an act of violence against a policeman.

But a mob...well, we all know about mob behavior, don't we? A mob is a thing with over a hundred legs and no brain. It's a kind of contagious insanity. I don't blame the police for taking precautions to protect themselves.

I accept that police are on edge because they're expecting violence and they're probably acting with more force than they might have, say, five or six years ago.

It could be because they're worried about terrorists. Or, you know. Not.

Because based on the idiocy of "university sports fans" here in Colorado, kids at the universities who go on a rampage if their team wins (or loses), stoning storefronts, setting cars on fire, and generally acting like a bunch of criminal thugs, I'd say that the police have something to worry about when they're facing a mob, any mob, okay?

If the police can expect to be stoned by kids who are all beered-up and on an adrenaline high because of some sports event, then isn't it reasonable that the police would expect the same or worse behavior from a group of people waving placards and banners and screaming about something that actually matters, like a war?

Sometimes I think that much of the police behaviors protesters experience are just a sign of the rougher, more violent times. (It's television and movie violence, okay? I don't want to hear any argument about it. Whether the violence in our media reflects an inexplicably uncontrollable violence in ourselves and whether humanity's natural violent impulses are, in turn, fed by the spectacle of constant on-screen violence, it's a fact that the level of violence in our "entertainment" is worrying.)

So, no, I don't think, by and large that there's any conspiracy on the part of the police in this country to oppress protestors. I think we reap what we sow and that what some protesters are reaping today is the fruits of what has been sown in recent years.

Yes, I think we have the same mix of "bad eggs" in the police departments as we've always had and that there are some of them taking advantage of today's climate. I think there are some places where said "bad eggs" might be in a position to issue orders to others and that in those places, the police are a bit more enthusiastic about "controlling" protest than they might otherwise be.

I think we all pretty much understand that "acceptable, non-violent protest" today means you stand in a "free-speech zone" out of sight of the media or anyone else who matters, and that strikes most of us as wrong.

But is it also necessary?

I mean, I don't doubt that Rove & Co are happier if there are no photo-ops where Bush is in the foreground with a bunch of anti-war protest banners in the background, but I question whether the separation of Bush from anti-war protesters has been undertaken for that reason, okay?

It's the Secret Service's job to protect the president and other national figures. Without reference to any partisanship, it has to be understood that if you know someone is likely to be opposed to a president, the job of keeping the president safe is easier if you can keep that person separated from him. I'm not saying that's the reason for the "free-speech zones" but I'm offering it as a possible explanation.

Does it go too far? Yes, I think it does, but I'm not one of the people who is going to die if one of those "protesters" turns out to have a hand grenade under his or her jacket. I'm not likely to be in any danger at all, so am I actually the person to make that decision?

The courts are something of a different case.

Are some of the laws the judges using to prosecute protesters signs that the judges are a little nuts? Yes. Sailor mongering? I hope that judge is embarrassed and ashamed of that particular sentence. Reaching back a hundred years or more to try and find a "crime" you can convict someone of is a bit much.

When Republicans get all outraged and shout about how dreadful those libruls are and how they're destroying the government by heinous acts like blocking the confirmations of some of Bush's perfectly good and not a bit activist nominees, I shake my head. There's "activism" and there's "activism" and while I don't think any of it belongs on the Federal bench, I worry more about right-wing extremism.

It's just that, well, "activist" liberals don't seem to tend toward infringement of personal liberties the way "activist" conservatives do. I can't explain it, it's just a perception I have, but it's what I believe. It shouldn't be that way and certainly the Republican party hasn't always been that way, but that's how I see it today.

Conservatives also strike me as a bit schizophrenic these days. Bush fought tooth and nail against the establishment of a "Homeland Security" department but then he put arch-conservative Ashcroft in charge of it and accepted a repressive, liberty-infringing, potentially unconstitutional 'mission' for it. You might say he didn't have any choice and maybe he didn't about the department's mandate, but he should have been able to do better than Ashcroft if he really wasn't interested in creating a monster.

Someplace inside of that dichotomy is what I'm talking about when I talk about conservative schizophrenia. There are many "traditional" Republican party platform planks I'm actually quite in agreement with. It's the wingnut, "you're with me or you're the enemy" conservatives that bother me and I know it's not an original thought when I say that I perceive that that unsavory element from the far Right has too much power in the party today.

Much as I rail against him, Bush doesn't actually bother me. He's not...he's not significant enough to matter, not himself personally. He's a loser who got lucky by being born into the right family and attracting the attention of a man (Rove) capable of turning a nationally known name and a casual if (I suspect) superficial bonhomie into political assets. Bush was...clay. Unformed, and just malleable to be carved into something that looked like a politician. And desperate enough for "success" that he'd make a good pupil.

Unfortunately, be it through Cheney or whoever, Bush is surrounded by some fairly unpleasant (in my eyes) elements whose 'vision' of where this country should go probably doesn't match that of most citizens.

I swear, I was going to write about "freedom" when I started this post. And I'm not Bush-bashing. I am, however, "bashing" parts of his Administration. I think their extremism, like any political extremism, is dangerous. And I distrust extremism by people overly infatuated with guns, okay?

I'm not talking about domestic "gun control" at all. I'm talking about the big guns, the toys of war.

I think it's been evident for some time that there are conflicting interests at work inside of the Bush Administration. Old-school hawks who have been slavering at the prospect of creating a de facto USofA empire for decades are facing off against the reasonable, realistic conservatives who understand that the world is not our playground.

When I was younger, I didn't perceive Republicans as being stupid. I didn't agree with them most of the time (they were, well, too conservative) but it was a difference in perception of what was right and most of my attention was, I'll admit, focused much more on the social policies of this country than our foreign policies.

Today, I tend to think of the leaders of the Republican Party as both malevolent and dim-witted. Short-sighted strong-arm tactics are being used in Congress today by men who don't seem to understand that their actions will have to be paid for tomorrow. And none of them seem to learn from previous mistakes.

We supported Saddam Hussein, heck, we practically created the man. Ditto Osama bin Laden and the Taliban.

Look what happened.

We need to stop and take a good look at how we form international alliances, of the potential costs of the short-term deals we make to achieve immediate goals. We need to start living up to our principles instead of hiring experts to help us get around them.

I don't object to the idea of a strong military that adds some, shall we say, emphasis to our international policies, but I think we have to be careful how we use that kind of power. And we have to stop doing deals with the devil in the comfortable security that, should it go wrong, we can always go in and find a different devil to oppose him later on. (Take a look at the people we're trying to put into power in Afghanistan.)

Not only is it guaranteed to go wrong, boys, it rots the very foundation of our country. It's never right to ally yourself with evil, not even if you think it's in the service of fighting a bigger evil. The ends don’t justify the means. (I know, I know, I've said this a dozen times already.)

The enemy of your enemy is not your friend.

And while I'm quoting clichés, try this one: Liberty and justice for all. Not "for all if they're citizens of this country and inside of our borders and don't happen to have the wrong name or the wrong skin color." For all.

The only tool we have to protect democracy is the law, and it has to be applied, as equally as the fallibility of mankind can achieve, to all people. In exactly the same way.

(Also? A corporation, while entitled to legal protections, is not a person. The country will survive without Monsanto. Monsanto is going to have a little trouble surviving without the people. A country is the people that inhabit it, it's not the incidentally formed business cooperatives that have sprung up to service those people.)

I no longer remember where I was going with this when I started it. I know I was worried about "freedom" in this country but now I seem to be headed toward something entirely different.

Anyhow. Republicans aren't all brainless and violence-prone. Most of them aren't and they need to make their voices heard by the leaders of their party.

Being a Democrat isn't about being a shrill, ineffectual, anti-Republican nitwit or whoever those people in charge of the party today think they are.

Being a Democrat isn't about not being a Republican, which is pretty much all I get from the Democratic leadership today. There are actual principles and beliefs around being a Democrat and, instead of stomping off to a corner and forming twenty-seven splinter groups, Democrats need to make their voices heard by their party's leadership.

And while I'm at it, let me point out that most Republicans aren't racists and most Democrats aren't PCism run amok.

What's that quote? I can't quite remember it and I'm too lazy to look it up. Something about, "the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."

For quite a long time now, the majority of us have been pretty much doing nothing. It's good that a few of us wandered around the internet and discovered the blog-related world of politics, but sitting here blogging or reading blogs isn't going the change the world. It's not even going to change your life.

You have to do something, even if it's something as small as sending an e-mail to your representatives. If you don't agree with what's happening, tell them so. If you do agree, tell them so.

Also, you know, motivate yourself to make the huge effort it takes to drag your lazy behind out to the voting booth once a year. It's a small price to pay for living in freedom but if you're not willing to pay it, don't come crying to me when they foreclose on your favorite parts of the Bill of Rights.

Posted by AnneZook at 12:07 PM


Yikes! Well done as always, but given the rambling nature I'm not sure there's anything onto which I can hang a comment. I like that you refuse to stereotype either Repubs or Dems, I'm much the same in that respect. People aren't evil just because they have different beliefs from us. I think I do disagree about the free speech zone thing vis a vis protecting the President. It's the Secret Service's job to protect the President, he has ample security around him without having to be completely walled off from anyone who exercises their Constitutional right to disagree with his policies. The concept of "free speech zones," in practice, is a slippery slope to me. It leads to Bush smirking about how wonderful democracy is when it's fairly clear he doesn't mean it, to his supporters using the occurrences to further stereotype progressives as anti-American, and to further curtailment of our rights.

Posted by: Elayne Riggs at December 17, 2003 07:57 AM

I dunno about "well done" but thanks anyhow. :) (I know these stream-of-consciousness posts would be much improved by some editing and rewriting but I'm too lazy.)

I don't approve of the "free speech zones." Let's be clear about that. I'm just saying that it's not impossible to rationalize them.

Democrats aren't as spiteful as Republicans. If they were, I'd be very interested to see how the Right would react to being on the receiving end of some of the tactics they've been using.

I also think, although I didn't say this because I was really trying to avoid bush-bashing, that if he and Cheney would stay in the White House instead of making three or four fundraising trips each every freaking week, they'd not only be "safer" but we'd save a lot of money.

Posted by: Anne at December 17, 2003 10:52 AM