February 2, 2006
Selective Outrage on Free Speech

By Debra Saunders

I feel sorry for Cindy Sheehan. She lost her beloved son, Casey, in the Iraq war, and for that she has my sympathy.

But losing your son in a war doesn't give you license to violate House decorum, as she did by wearing a t-shirt (reading: "2,245 Dead. How many more?") before President Bush's State of the Union speech Tuesday night. It also doesn't grant you special wisdom on foreign relations in South America. If it did, Sheehan would not have let herself be embraced by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

While supporters say Sheehan's loss gives her credibility, I don't see antiwar types changing their tune after listening to parents of slain vets who support the war. So her words don't change my mind, not when she talks like a little girl.

Worse, Sheehan feeds the conceit of many Bay Area war protesters -- that they are brave warriors risking their safety and the wrath of the Bushies as they protest the war.

Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif., obviously buys into that conceit. Woolsey, who invited Sheehan to the address, issued a statement Wednesday that asked, "Since when is free speech conditional on whether you agree with the president?"

Ditto Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif., who told The San Francisco Chronicle, "I'm still trying to find out why the president's Gestapo had to arrest Cindy Sheehan in the gallery."

I expect members of the House to show more political sophistication than a novice blogger. They must know that the Capitol Police report to Congress -- not the Bushies. But Stark, who introduced a resolution calling for a probe into the police action, is happy to mislead.

It is clear that the Capitol Police were not acting as pro-war censors, as they also invited Beverly Young, wife of Rep. C.W. Bill Young, R-Fla., to leave because she was wearing a t-shirt that read, ''Support the Troops -- Defending Our Freedom.''

(Sheehan asks why she was the only one arrested. Duh. She's not married to a congressman. And rightly, the charges against Sheehan were dropped on Wednesday. The Capitol Police have apologized.)

If Sheehan wants to fight for First Amendment rights, she might want to stand up for The Respect Life Ministry of the Oakland Diocese of the Roman Catholic Church. The group paid to put up billboards on BART that ask the question, "Abortion: Have we gone too far?" Abortion-rights activists defaced and tore down billboards -- squelching the message of a dissenting voice in the Bay Area. Suzanne ''Sam'' Joi, a member of Code Pink, which has hosted many Sheehan events, told The Chronicle: ''I couldn't believe BART would allow something like this. Why are they doing this?''

Free speech? Sheehan should take a look at how her buddy Chavez treats dissidents. As Jackson Diehl reported in The Washington Post last year, the Chavez-controlled legislature passed new media laws that included this choice provision: "Anyone who offends with his words or in writing or in any other way disrespects the president of the republic or whomever is fulfilling his duties will be punished with prison of six to 30 months if the offense is serious, and half of that if it is light."

Dissidents who stand up to Chavez are courageous. They risk time in a Venezuelan prison. Californians who bash Bush on the war risk being hailed as local heroes and appearing on cable news.

Personally, I wish the Capitol Police had allowed Sheehan to stay for the speech in her t-shirt. I think she would have chased a few moderate voters into the pro-Bush column. But that could happen anyway. Americans have to notice when a friend of Hugo Chavez bemoans that she was denied free speech -- when she never seems to stop talking.

Copyright 2006 Creators Syndicate

Debra Saunders

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