vendredi, octobre 08, 2004

In the Town Hall (for a Free Exchange in the Marketplace of Ideas)

This morning, National Public Radio - whose news coverage I would describe as fair and balanced - had a great feature on their Morning Edition program. NPR heartthrob Nina Totenberg filed a report on how the two campaigns handle dissenters at rallies. There is no transcript of the article, but here is a synopsis:

Some would-be attendees at President Bush's campaign events say they're being asked to leave for wearing clothes or stickers that support the president's opponent. At Sen. Kerry's rallies, the presidential hopeful ruefully acknowledges the presence of the opposition. NPR's Nina Totenberg examines the rights of campaign event planners and attendees.

And if you go here, you can listen to the audio of the report.

Like Bush and Cheney, I'll set aside the constitutional concerns. I also won't get into what this says for the Bush Campaign's feelings on freedom of speech (see, also, abuses of the USA Patriot Act). Instead, I'll only suggest that I think this might be a poor strategy for President Bush, and I'll cite three reasons.

First, as the NPR report makes clear, there are a number of undecided voters who are being turned away, and I'm not sure being forcibly removed from campaign rallies makes them more inclined to vote for President Bush. In fact, I'm sure they tell their friends and end up in newspapers too.

Second, and I guess we'll see tonight, I wonder if removing doubters prepares President Bush for appearing in front of crowds that have not signed a loyalty oath. (Read about loyalty oaths here and here and here). Might President Bush be hampered by not having a few unfriendlies in front of him from time to time? During the Republican convention, President Bush seemed genuinely rattled by protester attempts to bum rush the stage.

Third and last, it makes Senators Kerry and Edwards look good, and it makes President Bush and Vice President Cheney look bad. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

President Harry S. Truman (a Democrat) used to speak from train cabooses to mostly friendly crowds, but he faced hecklers all the time, and he made out just fine. President George H.W. Bush (Bush I) had to endure a man in a chicken suit showing up at a lot of his rallies.

To me the questions are: do we learn something about our candidates based on how they handle dissent? Bush often argues that Kerry will change his mind at the first hint of a pressure. I disagree with that, but does all of this suggest that Kerry won't wilt? Is Bush too shielded from opposing viewpoints? What does an unwillingness to appear in front of "the people" in "the marketplace of ideas" say about the President? What do loyalty oaths say about Bush and Cheney? Are there questions they don't want to answer? Why?