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Pay no attention to the people behind the curtain

Monday, August 27, 2007

The White House freedom-suppression manual

by bert

Outrage has become banal in the Bush era.

Over seven years we have become used to all of these self-serving shenanigans of White House handlers to insulate the president and his photo ops from any dissent, especially during campaigns.

So last week, when it was revealed that an actual manual exists to instruct event organizers on how to sanitize any presidential visit of any free speech, I think we shrugged. The secret document written in 2002, called the "Presidential Advance Manual", came to light thanks to an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit. According to the Washington Post, the instructions say that:
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.

Wisconsin lived these brave new repressions during the 2004 campaign when our state hosted about as many rallies as any state in the union. Remember? A fellow in Platteville was arrested for his sign visible as the motorcade passed, and a woman in La Crosse was part of a group caught with anti-war messages on their undershirts as they tried to enter a Bush rally.

The woman, Sandra McAnany Norwalk, recounted her experience during that May 7 rally in a letter to the La Crosse paper.

There a lady was asking some of the adults to unbutton their shirts so she could see if they had anything inappropriate under their shirts. When I unbuttoned mine she saw the anti-war slogan and called security. A guy came over, grabbed our tickets and asked how I managed to get them. He looked at my 9-year-old and told us that "We don't want people like you here," then ripped up our tickets and told us to get out of the area.

Some reading this might remember other cases. For example, the manual instructs handlers to allow protesters to exist during presidential visits, but to keep them safely sequestered far, far away from the event. Weren't protesters corralled up by the di Suvero sculpture at the top of Wisconsin Avenue for one visit?

Besides the fact this stuff cuts close to home, the other thing that might stir that moribund outrage is the whole principle of the thing. What stirs my vestigial outrage are childhood memories.

They are not happy ones; they are the periodic lectures from my dad, after he'd get his workboots unlaced and a couple of Budweisers in him, about how terrible the Soviets were. His chosen way to explain this thing called freedom to a seven-year-old -- this stuff that we in the U.S. have and that the Russians want to take away -- was to point out that in the U.S. we could criticize our president and nothing would happen.

He'd say, "over there in Russia they'd arrest you."

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