By David Keene - 04/26/10 07:03 PM EDT
President Obama has asked — or, more accurately, politely demanded — that businesses adversely affected by the Democrats’ banking and financial reforms “stand down” so Congress can act without pressure “from special-interest lobbyists.”
Democrats seem upset JPMorgan and the USAA, along with the Chamber of Commerce and American Bankers Association, have asked employees, customers and members to contact senators to argue that many of the provisions in the administration-backed regulatory reform legislation might do more harm than good.
It is presumably all right for the president’s reliable supporters to lobby, speak out and even take to the streets in support of those things he supports; but those who oppose them should shut up, stand down and stop bothering his friends in Congress, who have more important things to do than listen to the concerns of their constituents.
The Bill of Rights to our Constitution guarantees Americans more than freedom of religion and the right to free speech. The First Amendment also guarantees them the right to petition their government and elected officials. Free speech and the right to petition are guaranteed to us all, regardless of whether we agree or disagree with any elected official or whether we support or oppose any bill. These rights are key to a functioning representative democracy, and those who forget should be reminded constantly that the Founders did recognize and even guarantee debate and discussion in the public square.
Political leaders from time immemorial have wished their followers would be content to simply follow and that they’d do so quietly. In some countries, they have done so for a time, but Americans have always valued and exercised their right to question their leaders.
Elected officials of both parties sometimes forget this, but rarely to the extent we see today. Hypocrisy, unfortunately, has always marked liberals’ allegiance to the First Amendment. During the First World War, President Woodrow Wilson jailed dozens of political opponents for questioning his policies. In 1962, liberals blamed “the far right” for the Kennedy assassination, and a leftist mob torched then Senate-candidate John Tower’s campaign headquarters until it was revealed Lee Harvey Oswald was a communist with ties to Havana and Moscow.
Obama and his supporters have reached new heights. His problems, they suggest, stem not from honest disagreement, but from unfair news coverage and hate-filled opposition groups that lean toward racism, violence and even Nazism. His opponents and critics are seen by his followers, and the president himself, not as fellow citizens who happen to disagree with him, but as evil — as “enemies of the people.”
The liberal view of leftist protesters is quite different. The demonstrators who attacked former President George W. Bush as a “Nazi” and “war criminal” were seen as legitimate: men and women simply exercising their right to protest an unpopular war and a president many admitted they “hated.” Liberal reviewers even suggested a film built around the desire to kill the hated president, while perhaps a bit “over the top,” should have been viewed as more evidence of popular opposition to the man and his policies.
This president has seen fit to attempt to demonize his opponents, threaten those who oppose him and smile as his supporters seek ways to silence them. One wonders how long it will be until he adopts the more direct approach of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, who this week has sent his thugs into the streets to stifle unwanted and “unfair” criticism.
Tea Party attendees, union members and even bankers have a right to express their opinions and should not, in a free country such as ours, face intimidation, scorn or thinly veiled threats for doing so. They all have a right to petition or, yes, lobby for or against legislation regardless of how their views sit with a bill’s sponsors, critics or the public as a whole.
As Americans, we can agree or disagree with the Tea Partiers or Mr. Trumka’s friends, but we all have to recognize their right to express their views as convincingly as possible to our elected officials.
That, whether President Obama and his friends recognize it, is a very big part of what this country is all about.
Keene is chairman of the American Conservative Union and a managing associate with the Carmen Group, a Washington-based governmental consulting firm.