Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Shutting them up

It certainly has not gone unnoticed that George W. Bush likes to have, shall we say, very select audiences for his campaign appearances. In fact, his campaign has developed quite a track record for tossing out anyone who appears even remotely inclined not to vote for him. This, evidently, is the new Republican way of engaging the public.

Now it's getting out of hand.

We've always known, of course, that Bush positively dislikes having to even think about, let alone confront, people who might disagree with him or vote against him or -- horrors! -- protest his policies. Remember the fellow who, back in the summer of 2001, told Bush he was disappointed in his work? The response: "Who cares what you think?"

One of the secondary, and less noticed, ways that Bush has managed to avoid all those disagreeable dissidents is to make his public appearances strictly in friendly locales. When he comes to Washington state, for instance, Bush doesn't appear in public, and he doesn't visit Seattle proper -- he visits the wealthy Republican suburbs, GOP-dominated Spokane, and the Fort Lewis military base.

His recent swing into Oregon was much the same way. Rather than visit Portland -- easily the state's largest city -- or other population centers, he's mainly appeared in heavily conservative rural areas.

But even then, the plague of dissent has wormed its way into his presence. Or tried to. And we know what that means.

Shut them up. Beat them up. Arrest them. After all, who cares what they think?

The ludicrous nadir of this style of public interaction came during an appearance in the small town of Central Point, where three schoolteachers were threatened and tossed out of a Bush event for wearing T-shirts that read:
Protect Our Civil Liberties

That's right. There was nothing explicitly anti-Bush about the shirts. Indeed, one has to wonder just what it was about the message that Republicans found so offensive. But one of the GOP staffers at the event found it so:
Voorhies said the three made it through all three checkpoints and assured volunteers who questioned them that they would not disrupt the event. But when Voorhies was on her way to the bathroom, she was stopped by a volunteer who told her she wasn't welcome.

She said this volunteer pointed to her shirt and said it was "obscene."

The teachers' ejections (and accompanying threats) evoked a caustic response from DNC chairman Terry McAuliffe, and a confused and defensive response from Republicans:
Tracey Schmitt, a Bush campaign spokeswoman, said no one on the campaign staff "can remember the incident or understand why they would have been removed unless there was reason to believe that they were disruptive or were planning to be disruptive."

Tonia Tong, a Medford schoolteacher who was one of the three women removed from the rally, also participated in the conference call. She said the trio had agreed to remain quiet during the event and had successfully passed three security checkpoints.

But she said a volunteer helping with security stopped one of the three women, Janet Voorhies, when she tried to go to the bathroom. The volunteer told her they were no longer welcome and would have to leave the event. The women said they were escorted out of the Central Point fairgrounds by police officers and threatened with arrest if they did not comply.

That, as it happens, was just the beginning.

The next night in Jacksonville, police fired pepper balls and arrested two people for merely having the audacity to show up and protest the Bush event outside.

Of course, police say they were just trying to get the protesters to move to a different location -- though for some reason, the same request was not made of rowdy Bush supporters who were engaged in verbal exchanges with the protesters. And the people who were shot with rubber bullets have quite a different version of what happened:
When the confusion started, Bush protesters and John Kerry supporters alike were standing in front of the inn at 175 E. California St., chanting "Four more years!" to which Kerry supporters responded "Three more weeks!"

"The gentleman in front of us is telling us to move back into the street, the gentleman in the street pushes me, looks me in the eye and said 'I will take you to jail' -- and I said I am standing here peacefully protesting, with my child," a confused and angry Cerriwen Benton said.

Bush supporter Avis Maddox said the police were trying to get Kerry supporters to behave; when the police asked them to move or get back they didn’t want to do it, she said.

Law enforcement dressed in riot gear swept through the crowd, making them move.

"We were just standing in front of the bank -- just standing there -- when riot police came up Third Avenue and started moving us. They sprayed pepper spray, while I was holding my 16-month-old child in my arms," said Kelly Larson, with her son Ty.

Michael Moss lifted his shirt to show the welts on his lower back from being shot with rubber bullets.

"I was covering an old man who fell down, and they shot me in the back," Moss said.

Richard Swaney, 65, said he had fallen down in the rush and Moss was shot with the pepper balls while trying to help him.

The pro-Bush supporters, of course, revealed their true colors during it all:
When the crowd had been moved to the intersection of California and Fifth streets, tensions remained high; citizens were divided on either side of the street by political beliefs, screaming insults at each other.

[Bush supporter Avis] Maddox said, "It is just not moral the things they are saying. They need to listen to both sides."

Sixteen year old Zack Burgdorf, dressed in military fatigues, shouted, "If you're gay -- go back to Ashland. America's not made for queers."

"Especially not Jacksonville," chimed Maddox.

I'm sure Lynne Cheney would agree. George Bush too.

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