"The President has stripped his events of anyone who might disagree with him, which is completely un-American. It is dangerous for a President to be the bubble boy of American politics. But it might explain why the President can't admit the problems of people without jobs, without health care, without prescription drugs, or trying to put their kids through college. He doesn't know about them because he refuses to even see them."
I couldn't agree with that comment more...today, or when it was uttered, about then-President George W. Bush and his campaign, by then-DNC chairman Terry McAuliffe. The incident that inspired that comment happened in Medford, Ore., eight years ago this month, when three women were barred from a Bush rally for wearing T-shirts that read "Protect Our Civil Liberties." And that was not an isolated event. Even after Bush was re-elected, in early 2005, the White House barred certain folksfrom a rally in Fargo, N.D., because they had the audacity to belong to a local chapter of (heh) Democracy for America. (The link is from Fox News, so it must be true.)
I remember this era well because it was in 2004 that I started blogging and in February 2005 -- the same month as the fiasco in Fargo -- that I launched Attytood. And frankly, these kind of clampdowns on free speech are exactly the thing that radicalized me after two decades of struggling, and often succeeding, to be a journalist with the opinion side of his brain castrated (is that a mixed metaphor?). I started feeling differently not long after 9/11 -- starting with Ari Fleischer telling me I had to watch what I said and with Congress passing the Patriot Act to find out what was in it, and amped up by a magnitude of 100 when the Iraq War lies started flowing. There were things happening in this country that "he said, she said" journalism was powerless to stop. And these restrictions on the ability of Americans to speak their mind freely sickened me more than just about anything.
The other day, I got that sickening feeling (no relation to this) all over again. This time, it was from reading news accounts right here in Philadelphia that a 17-year-old high school student had been mocked and riduculed by her geometry teacher for wearing a Romney-Ryan T-shirt, who told her to remove the shirt and who likened the GOP ticket to the KKK.
My first thought that this was every bit as bad as the Bush-era campaign rally incidents that I had written about seven or eight years ago. But then I realized that in some ways this is worse. Those earlier abuses happened at political events, where, unfortunately, we've learned to expect tomfoolery. This was coming from a teacher at a school -- where kids are supposed to learn how to formulate their own opinions on the world...and then express them. Where young people should learn (despite what they say deep in the heart of Texas) critical thinking. And where they also find out that the First Amendment can indeed make America exceptional...if we can keep it.
My initial reaction over the weekend also was that not only should the teacher -- who's tried very badly to explain this as a joke gone awry -- apologize but that Mayor Nutter should add this as a stop on what feels like a non-stop, city-wide apology tour. Those things happened more or less, but they did not send a strong enough message about free speech and public education. I headlined this blog post "Why the Romney T-shirt teacher doesn't need to apologize"...followed by an asterisk.
The asterisk stand for...because Lynette Gaymon should be fired, for turning a public classroom into a no-free-speech zone. End of story.
I was reminded of the incident 10 days ago at Philadelphia's Puerto Rican Day Parade where a cop who'd been squirted by water slapped and knocked down a woman who, to make matters even worse, seemed to have nothing to do with the incident. The police commissioner looked at the video, thought about it for a day or two...and moved to fire the offending lieutenant. Well, Lynette Gaymon slapped the First Amendment and knocked it to the ground. Short of physical violence or sexual abuse, it's hard to imagine worse behavior from a teacher.