‘Medaling’ With Free Speech at the Olympics

President Bush last week sounded just like a liberal.

Yes, you read that right. Bush. Liberal. Same sentence.

At the new U.S. embassy in Beijing on the opening day of the Olympics, he said, “All people should have the freedom to say what they think.” Without even blinking, he also told the world, while directing his comments at the Chinese, “We strongly believe societies which allow the free expression of ideas tend to be the most prosperous and the most peaceful.”

The day before, in Tibet, he boldly said, “America stands in firm opposition to China’s detention of political dissidents and human rights advocates and religious activists.” He said he was speaking out “for a free press, freedom of assembly, and labor rights, not to antagonize China’s leaders but because trusting its people with greater freedom is the only way for China to develop its full potential.”

There was only one problem with the President’s comments. His actions the past seven years have proven he doesn’t believe what his speech writers told him to say.

In Charleston, W. Va., at a Bush speech on July 4, 2004, non-violent protestors were handcuffed and arrested.

In Pittsburgh, a retired steelworker was arrested for carrying a sign. In Michigan, it was a student. In Hamilton, N.J., it was the mother of a soldier killed in Iraq who asked the wrong question of Laura Bush.

Almost 2,000 peaceful protestors at the 2004 Republican convention in New York City were arrested and subjected to what can only be called “primitive” prison conditions for several days—until the courts threw out almost all of the arrest warrants.

As Texas governor, Bush had ordered peaceful protesters away from the governor’s mansion. As president, he directed there be zones as much as a half-mile from any Presidential cavalcade or speech for anyone protesting his policies. For those who refuse to enter into these remote and generally obscure “free-speech zones, police arrest them for trespassing or disorderly conduct, and then detain them until the President or Vice-President is out of the area and the media leave.

When challenged, law enforcement officials claim the separation is for security reasons. Persons carrying pro-administration signs are allowed to be in the line of sight to the President and Vice-President. Anyone wishing to harm the President needs only to carry a sign praising the President or not to carry one at all. By creating a protest zone hundreds of yards away, the Bush–Cheney Administration’s actions are designed not so much to protect the President as to give the political illusion of the President’s “popularity.” The media, especially the television media, focus upon the President and crowds that are carefully selected and deftly manipulated to show enthusiastic support of Bush and his policies. Because they believe the “story” is with the President, they usually ignore dissenters, especially if they’re away from the President. It gives a false picture, yet is politically clever.

Under the PATRIOT Act, Americans’ rights of privacy, including their reading habits, could be scrutinized by the FBI. Protestors—even peaceful ones—can be charged with terrorism. Dissenters are often denied the right to fly on commercial airlines. In Bush’s target have been Greenpeace and the Quakers. Like China’s leaders, America’s leaders say these restrictive measures only exist to protect the nation.

Americans are right to condemn China for its totalitarian suppression of dissent, the manipulation of free expression, and for building three “Protest Pens” in Beijing to keep protestors away from an international sporting event. Americans should also have condemned the “protest pens” at the Salt Lake City Olympics in 2002. More important, Americans should have spent the past seven years condemning the Bush–Cheney Administration for systematic violations of six Constitutional amendments, including the First Amendment guarantees of free expression.

[Dr. Brasch, an award-winning syndicated columnist, is professor of journalism at Bloomsburg University and president of the Pennsylvania Press Club. His latest book is Sinking the Ship of State: The Presidency of George W. Bush (November 2007), available through amazon.com and other bookstores. You may contact Brasch at brasch@bloomu.edu or through his website at: www.walterbrasch.com]

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About Walter Brasch

Columnist, author, journalism professor. Latest book is BEFORE THE FIRST SNOW: STORIES FROM THE REVOLUTION, a look at the couterculture from 1964, as seen through the eyes of a “flower child” who is now middle-aged–and of the reporter who covered her story. The book is available through Amazon.com . . . Check out website, www.walterbrasch.com for further info. Or, just write me: walterbrasch@gmail.com

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7 Responses to ‘Medaling’ With Free Speech at the Olympics

  1. Good job ! CNN just reported 2000 US troops were air lifted into Georgia and not being specific on where. Bush says both sides need to stand down. All over oil and this is nuts ! Energy Independence and National Security !

  2. Where has our textile industry gone in the US ? China ! ou name it and we’re importing it !

  3. Clarifiction and a bit off topic but CNN just reported US air lifted Georgia’s troops and 2000 of our troops are not there. Russia doesn’t appear to be standing down and Georgia’s troops retreat to defend capitial Tbilisi.

  4. CNN reporting and state department just evacuated 170 plus US Americans out of Georgia. President of Georgia flees from attacks on his life. UN Security Counsil calls another emergency meeting on behalf of Georga’s request. Russia’s diplomatic foreign leaders slam US for air lifting Gerogia’s troops per CNN. US has started to provide  humane efforts for Georgia and sending food and blankets with other supplies. Cease fire and stand down both sides per US. Protests are starting outside UN to cease fire on Georgia. Peace ! You can have the oil and we’re going energy independence and peace ! Congress, are our US wind corridors open yet ?

  5. Darrell Prows says:

    I kind of like the way that Putin is grabbing Georgia by the scruff of the neck and sending the (lightly) veiled message that a whole different situation would have been possible if Kid George had just been a bit more adult in his recent handling of the ABM mess. Actually both of them are being pretty immature, but I definitely cringe any time our little jerk goes around lecturing anyone.

  6. Darrell

    I can’t make heads or tails about wht’s going on over there in Russia/Georgia, and granted my head’s not focusing on trying to figure it out at the moment. That said if you are paying attention please share in a post if you can.

  7. kim says:

    Is anyone going to hold China to account on its promises. For one it promised that hosting the Olympics would improve human rights:
    “By allowing Beijing to host the Games you will help in the development of human rights,” that was said by Liu Jingmin, vice-president of the Beijing Olympic Bid Committee, in 2001.
    It has yet to happen
    China is the world’s leading executioner and the biggest jailer of journalists and dissident bloggers. It uses torture and censors the Internet and the media.
    Standing up for human rights is about standing up for the values enshrined in the Olympic Charter