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Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Mistake for Bush to claim ownership of speech regulation

The Democrat-left loves to smear President Bush, the Patriot Act and the war on terrorism as destroyers of civil liberties. Anyone who has looked at the actual details of the Patriot act and administration policies is well aware that the steps taken to free up law enforcement are all obvious and long over-due. The real problem is that the Bush administration remains tied by phony politically correct “civil rights” concerns at many points, most obviously its refusal to target the young Arab and Muslim men that are targeting us. But all of this reality flies under the mainstream media radar screen. The one place where President Bush’s civil rights bona fides have been publicized is in his consistent response to the slanders of anti-American bigots like Michael Moore. Bush has consistently said that he welcomes everyone’s free speech, that that is what we are fighting for. Yet now, when a group of Vietnam Veterans want to exercise their free speech, Bush starts talking about shutting down “unregulated” speech (“unregulated soft money” technically).

I can’t think of a better way to lose middle of the roaders, who are for the war on terror but are afraid of losing civil liberties. (Instapundit posts a comment from one such voter.) Of course Kerry is a worse enemy of free speech, sending every broadcast television station a promise to sue if it shows the Swiftvets’ ads, filing complaints with the FEC, calling on President Bush to tell the Swiftvets to shut up. But the media covers up the worst of this as far as possible. If Bush threatened to sue television stations for running his opponents ads it would be front page news for a month, backed up with thousands of editorials condemning this outrageous attack on free speech. When Kerry does it there are no news stories, not even on page 16, no editorials, no condemnation. But Kerry opened the door when he decided to go nuclear against the Swiftvets, calling them a bunch of Republican funded liars and demanding that President Bush shut them up. This gave the President an opportunity to contrast his free-speech approach to Kerry’s anti-free-speech approach that the press could not ignore. He could have come out and said:

Senator Kerry wants me to condemn the free speech of those Vietnam war veterans who oppose his candidacy. I have been attacked relentlessly by Democrat 527’s like Moveon.org. Democrat National Committee Chairman Terry McCauliff has falsely accused me of being AWOL from my National Guard service. Michael Moore put out a full length movie of malicious disinformation about our nation’s war effort. I haven’t liked the things that these people have been saying, but I have welcomed it. At every turn I have said that their free speech is part of what we are fighting for. Senator Kerry does not understand that. He thinks that the President of the United States can tell a group of Vietnam veterans to shut up. I am here to tell you, and Senator Kerry, that the President of the United States CANNOT tell a group of Vietnam veterans to shut up. Any candidate for president really does need to understand that.

Instead Bush claimed ownership of our experiment in flushing the First Amendment. There is no upside for him here. Leftist free speech is not going to stop. He just trades in the credit he has earned for being pro-free-speech for the blame for being anti-free speech, a very serious issue to many people. This bodes ill.

UPDATE: Polipundit has an opposite take, noting that there are some big upsides for Bush in the way things are working out. In particular:

...from now on, any attack ads from the Left have been blunted. No matter how nasty, Kerry can no longer ignore the MoveOn.org, Moore, and Soros hit teams; at least a part of the voters will see them as linked to Kerry, unless he denounces them.

True. But does Bush really have to push for banning 527's in order for this Kerry hypocrisy to be telling? Just the fact that Kerry has run crying to daddy/Bush and mommy/FEC to make the Swiftvet ad stop, while much larger pro-Kerry 527's run truly slanderous attacks against Bush and the Swiftvets, paints Kerry as the ultimate crybaby. Bush is able to focus attention on this crybaby nature when he calls Kerry's anti-527 bluff, but look at the price. He at the same time focuses attention on himself as a moving force for censorship. What a disaster!

Unfortunately, banning 527's has been Bush's position since last fall. This is just one of our terror-war hero's many serious liabilities. Hopefully it won't sink him.

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