I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue, unexercised and unbreathed, that never sallies out and sees her adversary
John Milton, "Areopagitica" (1644)
I feel a sermon coming on, and I'm taking my text from Milton's famous argument for free expression. So pour yourself another cup of strong coffee.
What's set me off is reading about preparations for the Republican National Convention that begins today. Those preparations reflect the administration's allergic response to dissent.
If you don't believe the GOP allergy exists, ask Kathryn Mead about it.
She's a 55-year-old high school social studies teacher in Traverse City, Michigan. She wanted to hear President Bush speak when he was there a couple of weeks ago. She'd seen Queen Elizabeth and Pope Paul in person, but she'd never seen a real live U.S. president.
She still hasn't.
According to the Travis City Record-Eagle, she had a ticket and the photo identification required to be admitted to The Presidential Presence.
But she was also wearing a small sticker that supported the Kerry-Edwards ticket. So the gate-keepers wouldn't let her in.
They took her ticket and tore it up. She was "visibly upset."
"I have never found this kind of screening anywhere in my travels around the world," she told the local reporter.
The chair of the Grand Traverse Democrats said that other Bush rallies she knew of also allowed only Republicans to see the president.
That didn't comfort Ms. Mead.
"I really, truly wanted to have the experience of having seen the president and hear him speak, which is very important to me as a social studies teacher," she said. "How can anyone in the United States deny someone entry? Isn't this a democracy?"
Well, you're probably saying, that's the way things are out in the boondocks. But it's not unlike the way things are in our least boondocky place, New York City.
For the last month or so, a group of peaceniks called United for Peace and Justice have been pestering the New York City bureaucracy for a permit to stage a rally in Central Park during the GOP convention in Madison Square Garden some 30 blocks away.
City bureaucrats said no, that such a rally with around 250,000 participants would play hell with the grass in the park. The peaceniks pointed out that the grass seemed to survive a Paul Simon concert that attracted 750,000 fans. The GOP mayor of the city was not moved, so the peaceniks asked the NY State Supreme Court for an order to overrule the bureaucrats, but Justice Jacqueline Silbermann denied the injunction last Thursday because the protesters waited too long to ask for it.
And yet another example: The Denver Post last week asserted in an editorial that the FBI in Denver was "making unannounced visits to people's homes for little chats with citizens who might consider expressing some sort of dissent at the upcoming Republican National Convention" 2000 miles away.
The Truth, Mainly
The Feds, the Post complained, "have gone about their mission aggressively, with little regard for basic rights and without evidence that the people they are trying to dissuade are actually intending any criminal activity."
Three members of Congress, the editorial said, "have called for the Justice Department to investigate the FBI tactics, saying they appeared to represent 'systematic political harassment and intimidation of legitimate anti-war protesters.'"
I may be paranoid, but it looks to me as if such efforts are designed to result in a Republican Convention with no dissent within shouting distance. Its virtue will continue to be "fugitive and cloistered," a virtue "that never sallies out and sees her adversary."
And what's wrong with that? Let me tell you.
President Bush seems already totally immersed in fugitive and cloistered virtue. The danger is that our leader, who says he doesn't read newspapers, will get the mistaken idea that the absence of opposition is a sign of supportfor all sorts of things: the war in Iraq, a Justice Department that makes a mockery of justice, an economy based on letting the poor and middle classes make up for the tax cuts for the rich, the Abu Ghraib obscenity, and so forth. To say nothing of garbled syntax that drives English teachers crazy.
There are timesand this must be one of themwhen the most patriotic thing to do is to disagree with the government. Do President Bush a favor and help free him from his cloister.
You know, the way Doug Bereuter, in his most courageous and patriotic act in 26 years in Congress, came right out and said the pre-emptive war on Iraq has been a great big fat mistake.
Go thou and do likewise. Amen.
Retired English Professor Leon Satterfield writes to salvage clarity
from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays. His e-mail