Monday, April 11, 2005

From St. Petersburg Times

Bush's believers-only speeches

A Times Editorial
Published April 9, 2005

The Bush administration might not appreciate the difference between campaign events that are paid for through private donations and official events put on with the public's money, but the Constitution surely does.

Everyone, regardless of their political affiliation, has a legal right to expect equal access to one of Bush's public presidential appearances. The First Amendment guarantees that government will not exclude anyone based on their political leanings. But disturbing reports have arisen around the country that entry into one of the president's Social Security speeches is being manipulated to keep out those who don't already support the president.

In Denver, three people were ushered out of a recent Bush speech because they had come in a car that sported a "No More Blood for Oil" bumper sticker. The group had done no protesting at the event, but were physically removed by a man who they thought was a Secret Service agent but came to learn was a local Republican staffer.

A similar incident occurred at the University of Arizona where a student with a "Young Democrats" T-shirt was barred from attending Bush's forum on Social Security. His ticket was crumpled up by a staff member. And in North Dakota, a blacklist of 40 people who were known progressives was used to keep them from attending a Bush speech.

This mind-set - that events must be sanitized so that no critics are anywhere near the president - permeated Bush's re-election campaign and has infected his administration. When Bush came to the Tampa Convention Center in February to tout his Social Security plan, tickets were passed out primarily through Republican Party groups and the offices of Republican elected officials. A spokesperson for Rep. Jim Davis, D-Tampa, whose district encompasses the Convention Center, said that their office did not receive any tickets for the event and has never received tickets for any event put on by the Bush administration.

It is apparent that Bush and his handlers are afraid to allow even an inkling of dissent in the audience. By avoiding legitimate questions, sticking with those that are staged and scripted, and filtering out anyone who isn't willing to cheer the the president, the administration creates the illusion that the American people are fully behind the president.


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