Columns » Max Brantley

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I've been disappointed at the relatively skimpy news coverage of the Bush administration's concerted effort to stifle dissent and suppress speech. Examples: Loyalty oaths to attend Bush campaign events. The sequestering of protesters in far-distant "free speech zones." Arrests of people holding protest signs at Bush rallies. Ejection of people who ask critical questions or wear lapel Kerry stickers to Bush rallies. Threats to fire government officials who speak uncomfortable truths. Outing of an undercover agent as political retribution for free speech. Last week, the New York Times reported that the FBI has been questioning peace activists and others about their plans to protest at the Republican National Convention in New York. The activists were warned that withholding information about planned disruptions could be a crime. The questioning was a transparent effort to chill dissent, which will be chilled enough by a cordon of police steel and other restrictions on protests. The Bush image makers prefer that no anti-Bush signs mar their camera angles. As yet, we haven't heard of FBI rousts in Arkansas. I invite the agency to drop by. I'd be happy to tell them I encourage convention disruptions. It's important to define disruption. I don't countenance violence or property damage. But I countenance dissent. I approve of the free assembly of tens of thousands of Bush critics, wearing T-shirts, waving signs, chanting slogans and otherwise doing everything they can to be seen and heard. Free speech is disruption to the Bush jackboots because the truth can get you beat. I only wish I could join the Billionaires for Bush, fun-loving pranksters who dress in white tie and evening gowns and arrive in limousines. They wave signs bearing slogans such as "Tax work, not wealth." When the Billionaires for Bush appear at Republican events, it sometimes takes a while for the real Republicans to understand they're being put on. Taxing workers rather than the wealthy is, after all, a central tenet of Bushonomics. You'd think, though, that protestors with names like Phil T. Rich, Tex DePore and Richard Dan Creases might arouse a little suspicion. In New York, according to their website, the Billionaires plan a croquet party Sunday in support of privatizing Central Park. Monday, it's the Million Billionaires March, formal attire required, to support favoritism for the corporate elite. A vigil for corporate welfare is also slated Monday and "ruly" bands of Billionaires will roam the streets, stopping for three-martini lunches. Wednesday morning, the Billionaires will yell at people in an unemployment line, telling them to get a job. A coronation ball is planned Thursday. If recent history holds, somebody will be arrested in New York for exercising his right to speak. With luck, this desperado will find himself before a court that still believes in the law, not one of Bush's "natural law" judges who hold the welfare of George W. and his cronies above statute and charter. Maybe the press would even cover such a case. Like Jefferson, I like a little rebellion now and then. If this be disruption, slap on the cuffs.

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