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Congress doesn’t like the message? Kill the messenger…


With a majority vote censuring Freedom of Speech, Congress today smacked down the voices of hundreds of thousands of Americans who are simply saying “we want a drawdown; we want our troops home.” In other words, Americans who want to bring an end to the Iraq War.

bill-of-right-and-congress.jpgCongress did it in the guise of patriotism, but this smackdown was also a blow to the very soldiers who are, according to these same officials, fighting for Democratic/Bill of Rights issues — such as free speech — in Iraq. In the U.S. Senate, a majority of our duly elected Senators, apparently with no more pressing issues to debate, voted on a Republican-sponsored symbolic resolution against MoveOn.org and their widely circulated anti-Petraeus ad that was printed as the general was testifying before Congress about the status of the Iraq War on the anniversary of Sept. 11.

The Senators, with Hilary Clinton and Christopher Dodd among the 25 refusing to join the censure, passed a resolution stating that Petraeus “deserves the full support of the Senate” and the Senate “strongly condemn(s) personal attacks on the honor and integrity of General Petraeus and all members of the United States Armed Forces.”

“Yesterday, they couldn’t even pass a bill to give soldiers adequate leave with their families before redeploying. But they’re spending time cracking down on a newspaper ad?” MoveOn.org

Questioning Petraeus and the Bush war machine, as MoveOn.org had the guts and the tactical brilliance to do, is not slamming our troops. It slammed Bush domination of everything related to Iraq. Unfortunately, when it comes to Iraq, Petraeus is the man in the driver’s seat, pushing that machine through the Iraq landscape.

But this isn’t just about MoveOn.org’s New York Times ad. It’s not about peace activists not supporting the troops either. Because that in itself is a lie. We [anti-war activists and peace mongers] love our troops. We are just fed up with administrative mechanizations that are keeping them mired in an increasingly untenable, endless war that will result in years of occupation.

In case you don’t get it, they are talking about us. Not just the big guys like MoveOn.org. And no, not just the smaller sites such as Clarksville Online that include both voices of dissent and opposing responses to those dissenting voices, or groups like Veterans for Peace or United for Peace and Justice or FreeThinkers for Peace and Civil Liberties. They are talking about shutting up ordinary Americans, turning off our voices, intimidating us into silence. They just happened to fall on a really big target in the form of MoveOn.org.

The reality is that they are talking about citizens like you and me, everyday people who live in small cities like Clarksville, and communities like Oak Grove, Kentucky, or Ashland City, or Paris, Tennessee. And if you think that this action doesn’t affect you because you aren’t a voice of opposition, or are simply ambivalent on this issue, or don’t want to be involved, think again.

Sooner or later it will be your turn. Because once the precedents are set, once the censures are in place and deemed an acceptable response to what people don’t want to hear, once the Bill of Rights has been set upon and trod down into the dirt (it’s more than halfway there now) with a bi-partisan Congress jumping up and down on it to snap its neck and paralyze its intent, it will be too late. Barring another American Revolution, we will have to live with such follies foisted upon us by the men and women we elected (or didn’t elect) to represent us — and that includes the President.


It started on September 11 with the Senate hearings, testimony by General David Petraeus, and a controversial ad by MoveOn.org that referred to him as General Betray Us; the controversy over the ad content made all the major papers worldwide and garnered a lot of instant replay. And while I think that underneath that cultivated appearance of truth and some token gestures that mean “let’s revisit this in ’08” or better yet, leave it to the next president to clean up, I’m not sure I would have slapped Petraeus down that hard. I might have saved my smack-down KO punch, prioritized it for the top dogs in the White House I didn’t vote for and the candidates I did vote for who are not living up to my expectations and their campaign rhetoric.

The Senate testimony with Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker was scheduled for maximum effect, overlapping the 9-11 memorial services — an American tragedy revisited, a tragedy orchestrated by Bin Laden (not Saddam) and including quite a few Saudis — but wait, they have oil and are friends of the White House; can’t alienate them. If they got mad and shut off our oil supplies we might have to ride bikes more often, walk a bit farther, get healthier, build a few more sidewalks, use expanded public transit systems, nurture alternative fuels and — oh yes — make a dent in oil profits.

But I digress.

MoveOn.org made the front page with that Betray-Us ad; it made front pages world wide. So did today’s resolution on censure, but I don’t think it’s going quite the way Congress hoped it would.

At a very small meeting in my town tonight, a meeting with scarcely a dozen people, a meeting that had nothing to do with politics, two individuals commented on the congressional slapdown. One was familiar with MoveOn but had, because of the Congressional smackdown, decided it was time to not just read their platform but support them financially; the other was unfamiliar with MoveOn until this flap and has now decided to join it and lend his fiscal support to them. Not because of the ad, but because of the visceral Congressional response to MoveOn’s act of free speech.

“[It is] a sad day in the Senate when we spend hours debating an ad while our young people are dying in Iraq. Now that the Senate has twice voted on this ad, it is time to move on and vote to end the war.” — Christopher Dodd

MoveOn.org today circulated a defiant e-mail vowing to keep up the fight and said of the Senate:

“Every day, our brave men and women are dying in a bloody civil war this Senate has done nothing to stop. Yesterday, they couldn’t even pass a bill to give soldiers adequate leave with their families before redeploying. But they’re spending time cracking down on a newspaper ad?

“So, we’re making clear where America stands. We’re releasing a statement from MoveOn members—and anyone else who feels the same way—saying, ‘We will not be quiet, we will fight back. We will keep speaking out until Congress forces an exit plan for this awful war.'”  — Eli Pariser, MoveOn.org

MoveOn.org has an e-mail list of 3.2 million, with numbers booming in the aftermath of the ad. It reminded me a of a scene in the A&E film The Magnificent Ambersons, where young George tries to defend his mother against potentially malicious chatter. His fiery protest and demands for retractions only gave the gossip greater credence and blew it up into the talk of the town; left alone it might have lingered but would have drifted into nothing on its own. There’s a message in there, and if you really read the ad — it questions the validity, the honesty of the general’s White House white-washed testimony but never once questions his patriotism.

Like the soldiers who serve under him, Petraeus is doing his duty. I watched his testimony, and found him to be refreshingly less rah-rah-sis-boom-bah than the President about the purported successes in Iraq and quite willing to admit that deployments cannot be infinite and there the possibility of failure looms. He admitted we might lose. Or at least, not win. Wow.

So what do I want to see and hear?

I’d like to see my elected Representatives and Senators respond to a reality check. Election 2008 is around the corner. America is divided and at the public level, party lines are beginning to blur. I am not happy with them.

A lot of Americans feel the same way. If they aren’t registered to vote, I’m encouraging them to register. And to get ready to vote. It’s never too soon for that. Despite questions about the validity of voting machines and the balloting process, if enough ticked off Americans show up at the polls, it will make a difference.

Americans, many, many Americans, are fed up with the status quo of the war and the economy and a Congress (House and Senate) that can’t seem to get anything done (not counting the military aspects of increased war debt, longer deployments, shorter stateside duty).

Maybe, though, they won’t have to do much more, because We the People of America can opt out of the mayhem on Capitol Hill by choosing to not vote for incumbents who do not reflect or respond to our views. We can choose to put our campaign dollars and our votes where our conscience stands.

We the People of America will not be silenced at the whim of an wimpy, impotent, lackluster Congress, nor will those of us who oppose the War in Iraq back down from our beliefs or the exercise of our basic right to dissent. It’s all there, in the Bill of Rights. Overshadowed by the Congress and the Patriot Act. Read the fine print, people. Before your congress steps on it again.


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