Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Core Values in West Virginia

Of all things, I have found myself reading the Charleston Gazette lately, following a story from back on the 4th of July. Seems Nicole and Jeff Rank, FEMA emplyees, went to a Bush event, even had tickets for it, but were bold enough to wear homemade T-Shirts that said "Love America, Hate Bush" on them. The Secret Service saw the shirts there in the crowd, worn by two law abiding citizens with tickets for the event, and promptly asked the city police to arrest the pair. Of course, this is not the first such story about folks getting their right of free speech suppressed by the Bush Admninistration, but the reaction here may be telling.

First, we're talking West Virginia here. Down home values. And the reaction? There has evidently been a huge groundswell of support for the Ranks. On Monday the mayor made a public apology, but that evidently was not enough. Perhaps some huge groundswell of community support, or mere decency, has now pushed the City Council to unanimously add to the apology with one of their own. Yes, the Republicans on the City Council concurred.
The apology, presented in a resolution by Councilman Harry Deitzler, said that the rights of the Ranks “to freely express themselves, as guaranteed by both the United States and West Virginia Constitutions, was directly or indirectly abridged, suppressed, or prevented by the City of Charleston.”

“It was a public event, not a private or a political event,” Deitzler said. “Taxpayers paid to bring [the president] in on an official presidential visit. In this country ... those who disagree with the government are allowed to state that disagreement.”

Perhaps this will play nationwide. Suppression of speech may be just that issue, if played up, that will sway swing voters. No, I do not expect the Bush team to soften on the issue. They appear not to know how to gauge the mood of the people on this or other issues. They are more concerned with amending the Constitution to limit free speech and dividing Americans than they are in attending to the values Americans hold dear. In West Virginia, those values are clearly Free Speech.