Public forums are no place for Bush's thought police

Let’s face facts: On the president’s two-month-long Social Security privatization road show, Americans who show any sign that they are not loyal supporters of the president are systematically barred from attending or expelled from his public forums, even if they give no sign that they plan to disrupt the proceedings or act inappropriately in any way.

Let’s face facts: On the president’s two-month-long Social Security privatization road show, Americans who show any sign that they are not loyal supporters of the president are systematically barred from attending or expelled from his public forums, even if they give no sign that they plan to disrupt the proceedings or act inappropriately in any way.

During the presidential campaign, this sort of behavior may have been just embarrassing — after all those were private, campaign-funded events.

But these events are taxpayer-funded public forums. So it really amounts to a violation of people’s constitutional rights.

Yes, yes, I know that the White House still says these are isolated incidents, with the proverbial “overzealous” volunteer getting carried away with himself or local officials operating outside the White House’s control. But that’s just not credible anymore; the evidence is too clear.

Let me note some examples.

You’ve probably heard of the case of the three Coloradoans — Karen Bauer, Leslie Weise and Alex Young — who were tossed out of the president’s Social Security event in Denver last month.

According Bauer, Weise and Young — each of whom entered the event with proper ticketing — they were forcibly removed by a man with an earpiece and wearing a dark suit whom event staffers identified as a member of the Secret Service.

It seems clear that the man was in fact not a member of the Secret Service, but to ordinary Americans who don’t regularly attend presidential events the difference between a bona fide Secret Service agent and an event staffer with an earpiece and a lapel isn’t going to be all that clear — especially when he’s got a stiff grip on your arm and he’s in the midst of giving you the bum’s rush out of the auditorium.

Lon Garner, head of the local office of the Secret Service, later confirmed to the three and to reporters in Denver that the man in question was not Secret Service but rather a Republican staffer. And Garner further told them that upon investigating the matter it turned out that the three had been expelled because they had arrived in an automobile with a “No Blood for Oil” bumper sticker.

From all accounts, that bumper sticker is the sole reason the three got booted — and I’ll leave to your imaginations the creepy surveillance system those advance teams must be running to tie three attendees in the hall to a bumper sticker on their car out in the parking lot.

Predictably, White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan has made a series of false statements regarding the incident.

On March 30, for instance, McClellan claimed that the three admitted that their intent had been to disrupt the event, when in fact that they have emphatically and consistently stated the opposite.

The White House has also tried to pass the whole incident off as the work of the locals.

But the locals say otherwise.

According to the Rocky Mountain News, the Colorado Republican Party has said that none of its five staffers at the event was involved in the incident. And in a radio interview March 31, local Congressman Bob Beauprez (R) made clear that the White House was in charge.

(The White House apparently knows the identity of the staffer in question but refuses to disclose it.)

Think this is an isolated case?

On a Tuesday conference call with the three ejectees from Colorado, I had a chance to speak with Steven Gerner, a University of Arizona sophomore who tells a very similar story about what happened to him.

Gerner went to one of the president’s privatization events in Tucson on March 21. Along with a group of friends, Gerner was standing in line with his ticket in hand when a staffer came up to him and asked to see his ticket.

The staffer confiscated the ticket (actually crumpled it up in front of him), and, when Gerner asked for an explanation, he was told that it was because he was wearing a University of Arizona College Democrats T-shirt. Even after offering to replace the offending garment with less offensive apparel, he was told the shirt made him a “potential risk.”

Another isolated incident?

How about the 42-name “blacklist” of people not to be admitted to the president’s event in Fargo, N.D., in early February?

Most of those on the list turned out to be members of the local Democracy for America chapter. And one, Linda Coates, was even a Fargo City commissioner.

Subsequent investigations in the local press, you won’t be surprised to hear, strongly suggested that the list was the work of the White House’s advance team.
There are, of course, many other examples from around the country.

So, as I said, let’s face facts. This is White House policy — to ban American citizens from taxpayer-funded public forums on the basis of their political beliefs.

They’re doing it because they think they can get away with it.

Which makes sense — because so far they have.

Marshall is editor of talkingpointsmemo.com. His column appears in The Hill each week. E-mail: jmarshall@thehill.com