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As Long as We Remember...

January 25, 2005

Freedom. Freedom! FREEDOM! FREE-DOM!!!!

Tony Soltero

For a moment there I thought Aretha Franklin had just been sworn into the Presidency. But no, it was just our old platitude-muttering favorite, George W. Bush himself.

The same dimwitted stumblebum who, if he hadn't had the foresight to be born into the Bush royal family, would be reporting to his parole officer about how well the Wal-Mart shelf-stocking job was going. (Hmmm. Maybe he isn't that dumb after all.) The same man who's made a career of grunting out lurching, simplistic declamations the news media swoons over as proof of his, er, "folksiness" or something.

If your drinking-game word was "freedom", well, I hope your hosts tossed you a couple of blankets and offered to let you stay the night. Wonder if there's a DVD of Karl Rove going over Junior's Big Speech the night before just to make sure he got the proper drawlin' down. Heck, I'd pay for one of those.

But hey, I'm glad our War President (he LOVES that title; just ask him...and it sure beats being called the Deficit President or the Quagmire President) has seen the light of freedom and democracy. It wasn't long ago that he wasn't too keen on the idea, after all.

After all, this is the man who rammed the Patriot Act down our throats – a constitutional abomination that does very little to protect us from terrorists, but a whole lot to increase the federal government's power to delve into the private lives of its citizens. (I always thought that conservatives were AGAINST this kind of state power grab, but logical consistency isn't exactly the right's forte.)

When that execrable bill zipped through a cowed, toothless Congress, Benjamin Franklin spun into the earth's core. As he sagely pronounced back in the day: "He who gives up essential liberty for a little temporary security, deserves neither liberty nor security."

Four years later, the Bushies have done everything possible to prove Mr. Franklin correct, as we are less safe and less free than at any other point in our history. And now they want to pass another one of these doozies, an even more wide-ranging one....for our "protection," of course. (Reminds me of the way the Meriwether Post Pavilion would tack a parking charge onto its tickets "for your convenience." But I digress.)

This is the man who tapped convicted felon and terrorist-supplier John Poindexter to lead an effort known as Total Information Awareness (TIA), an "initiative" to track the internet habits of every American.

Who needs black helicopters?

This is the administration that corrals protesters into tiny little parcels it refers to as "First Amendment Zones." The nerve of these people, criticizing the government and making Junior feel bad! Well, MY First Amendment Zone covers 3,717,792 square miles, thank you very much.

This is the administration that believes it is okay to discriminate against a group of people on the basis of what sex they're physically attracted to. The administration that believes the proper role of government is to implement the agendas of radical fundamentalist clerics hailing from the shining, forward-looking beacons of Alabama and Colorado Springs.

And, of course, we have some past burblings from Mr. Bush's own mouth to account for, such as his statement in December 2000 that: "If this were a dictatorship, it'd be a heck of a lot easier, just so long as I'm the dictator."

The message from the Bushies has been clear: We're all for freedom and liberty, as long as none of you is actually foolish enough to try to EXERCISE all this freedom and liberty we're kind enough to pay lip service to. It would be unpatriotic, after all!

But maybe I'm being too harsh. Maybe Mr. Bush is actually sincere in this new conversion to the benefits of freedom around the world. Hey, it's possible – there’s a first time for everything. He DID eventually stop drinking and driving, so maybe he understands the concept of liberty a little better now.

If that's the case, then there are about a hundred governments around the world that should be experiencing a few new little shivers. Places like China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Guatemala, and Equatorial Guinea, among many others.

As we all know, the Chinese record on democracy and human rights doesn't exactly flow from the tradition of the Magna Carta. It hasn't loosened up much since the Tiananmen Square massacres of 15 years ago. And if you lack a “Y” chromosome in Saudi Arabia, you've got about as many rights as a camel's back hump.

Maybe this newly enlightened Bush administration will put a little pressure on these dictatorships, using its international muscle to, say, ensure that the citizens of Equatorial Guinea and Nigeria get to share in the oil wealth of their countries, ensure that Saudi and Kuwaiti women can be more than just baby factories if they so desire, ensure that the Chinese people have a say in selecting their governments, ensure that Peruvians and Bolivians can speak out against their leaders without being tossed into prison, and ensure that fundamentalist extremism (Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Sikh, or any other) carries as little appeal as possible to the general public.

The list goes on. Those of us who believe in freedom and democracy have a lot of work to do. So how do we know Mr. Bush is sincere?

Well, we can watch what his administration does now that the ill-conceived Patriot Act is approaching its expiration date. Will it admit that it was an affront to civil liberties and freedoms and let it die, or will it push for its renewal?

If it's the latter, then we'll know that all this "freedom" talk was just empty, crowd-pleasing rhetoric, and code-speak for its next military adventure, which will just be about replacing one dictatorship with another.

When she sang about freedom, Aretha Franklin told us all to think. Let us do so and hold this administration accountable for its words.

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