Tag Archives: First amendment of the Constitution

What ever happened to the right to dissent?

This article written by: Former Assemblymember Hannah-Beth Jackson of Speak Out California

The American people are getting to be more and more like the frog in the pot of water. You know the analogy—if you put a frog in water and slowly up the heat, the frog doesn’t know when he’s getting cooked until the water is just about boiling and his fate is sealed because he can’t jump out.  Ive been feeling that this is what is happening to the American people recently and we’re not yet aware that the first amendment, like the frog, is being destroyed by a slow, but sure attack on dissent.

Today I awoke to a plea from the folks at MoveOn.org asking that I call my U.S. Senators and urge them to reject an attempt by Senate Republicans to condemn Move On for its ad last week regarding the testimony of General Patreus. If you recall, they referred to him as “General Betrayus” for what they claimed was a dishonest and slanted analysis on the progress of the so-called “surge” strategy that Bush and his cronies imposed upon Congress, the American people, and most importantly our soldiers and the Iraqi people.

This shameless ploy reminds me of one of the most fundamental strategies recommended when you’re being attacked and can’t respond effectively because the facts are simply against you. Don’t try to respond, just attack the messenger. By deflecting attention from the substance of what is being said, the focus moves from the issue to the character of who is sending the message. It is a strategy that the Bush administration has employed since its beginning. Every time the Emperor is observed walking without clothes, and that pesky child yells that the Emperor is naked, the Bush media machine (Fox News and others) steps in and attacks the child as being blind, or crazy, or both, or in the case of the Bush years, of being disloyal and unpatriotic.

It is not new that dissent is characterized as disloyalty. During times of war (that is REAL war, like World War 2) there was an effort to keep Americans focused on the battle, and dissent, as limited as it may be, was kept in check while our soldiers fought off the Nazi’s and Imperial Japan.  Think more dramatically about after that war, when Joseph McCarthy established his drunken and reckless reign of terror on the American people, using Communism as the “War” we were fighting and using anyone who ever read a book by Karl Marx as a scapegoat.

Fast forward to today, where the “War on Terror” has replaced the War on Communism as the war de jour. While the threat of terrorism is real, the threat of losing our democratic way of life appears to be even more real and immediate in our country today. It was one of our great sages who observed that democracy will never be defeated from without, it will only be defeated from within.

Are we at that stage where the cancer of extremism within our country, the lack of an open, free and independent press has extinguished an honest and open debate on the issues, where our President believes he is king and not subject to the checks and balances of the co-equal branch of government we call Congress? Is democracy being threatened from within?
The Founding Fathers of our country made it abundantly clear that the key to our democracy is a free and open press by which we can educate, debate and communicate our beliefs, opinions and knowledge.  Thomas Jefferson observed that we must make sure people have the necessary information to make intelligent and clear decisions and that we must do so through educating them. And in keeping with the spirit, I’m providing the actual quote from Jefferson to avoid being attacked as unpatriotic for suggesting we educate people as to the facts:

  “I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves;
  and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome
  discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education.
  This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power.”

So where are we today? We have a US Senate that this week couldn’t find the will to give our troops a respite from war by providing them the opportunity to rest and refresh back home before redeployments (the Senator Webb amendment) but can find the time to castigate a grass-roots organization for calling out the general on the ground in Iraq for his  less than candid appraisal of the success/failure of his mission. Is this really happening?

Where are we when a slightly obnoxious and insolent young man asks pointed questions to former presidential candidate and U.S. Senator John Kerry about his early capitulation of the 2004 Presidential race and gets hauled away by police for asking these pointed questions? How well is our democracy functioning when a public institution of higher education pulls the appointment of a leading and highly respected constitutional scholar, to lead California’s newest law school after the announcement is made because he is too liberal and too outspoken in his opinions about the constitution for a cabal of influential right-wing extremists? Although reason and good judgment ultimately prevailed and Professor Chemerinsky will lead this new academic endeavor, how is it that we have become so unwilling to let the voices of disagreement and dissent speak?

While many of us have strong differences of opinion on any number of issues, and clearly the level of intensity has risen as the right-wing of this country has gotten more extreme and more entrenched, it is nonetheless a nation of ideas and differences of opinion that we honor and cherish.  The freedom to speak, to debate, to disagree, to object, to challenge and to dissent are among this nation’s finest traditions. 

Is it necessary to agree with MoveOn’s strategy—with the hostile young man in Florida, with the right-wing ideologues who are still running this country and sadly the majority of our news media? Certainly not. But to attempt to silence their voices because we may disagree is to let the enemies of democracy and freedom win. Let’s face it: The Emperor has been naked for some time. It’s way beyond the time that we stop pretending he’s dressed in his finery. It’s time we exercise the courage of a young child and call out the facts as we see them and insist that we be able to do so. To be silent or allow ourselves to be intimidated into silence is not an option.