One Chicago Columnist Sees It Clearly
If you want to read a great column that capsulizes the world that George W. Bush has brought us, read this from Chicago Sun-Times columnist Debra Pickett on Friday. She did a great job highlighting how the Bush Administration defines a free press and democracy abroad, and hammers dissenters here at home, even those dissenters from their own party.
The news from Washington is like a bad Broadway show, the kind that promises to make you laugh and cry and be better than "Cats."
The comedy came first. On Monday, President Bush stood beside Afghan President Hamid Karzai for a "Joint Press Availability."
After the two men made some opening remarks, talking about the glories of bringing democracy to Afghanistan, Bush announced, "And in the spirit of the free press, we'll answer a couple of questions."
Answering a couple of questions constitutes a free press?
The first question dealt with the military's treatment of Afghan prisoners of war. It was full of facts and details and built-in follow-ups, so you could tell the reporter asking it would probably never get called on again. And, after this rocky start, Bush decided to let the American reporters cool their heels for a while.
"Somebody from the Afghan press?" he asked next.
There was an awkward silence, which Karzai gamely tried to fill in by asking, "Anybody from the Afghan press? Do we have an Afghan press?"
Then he spotted the single reporter his government had permitted to travel outside Afghanistan.
"Oh, here he is," Karzai said, as the room filled with the not-quite-warm laughter of people who suspect they might actually be the butt of a joke but aren't sure.
It turned out, National Public Radio journalist David Greene reported later, there were nine other Afghan reporters who were to have followed Karzai on his U.S. visit but, at the last minute, the Karzai government decided to withhold their travel permits for fear the journalists might try to escape their troubled homeland.
Bush seemed genuinely surprised that the Afghan reporters weren't there -- American journalists had been asked to fill in their empty seats -- so it seems that Karzai forgot to mention to his good friend that the whole free press thing has a slightly different meaning in the burgeoning democracy that is Afghanistan.
Later in the week, the comic first act on Pennsylvania Avenue gave way to a tragic second act on Capital Hill.
Reports are divided as to whether Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) was crying or just fighting back tears as he spoke on the Senate floor on Wednesday. But either way, he was obviously very emotional as he begged his Republican colleagues to reconsider their party line support of John Bolton, the Bush nominee for ambassador to the United Nations.
"I know some of my friends say, 'Let it go, George. It's going to work out,' “ Voinovich said. ”I don't want to take the risk. I came back here and ran for a second term because I'm worried about my kids and my grandchildren."
It was also clear that Voinovich was worried for his political life. Conservative groups are already running ads against him, and Bush allies have been busily trashing him to anyone who'll listen.
The pressure, Voinovich told one interviewer, has been "overwhelming."
I think we heard the Bush administration in full voice this week, laughing at those who ask questions, wringing tears from those who would dare dissent.
If it were a Broadway show, you could buy a ticket, watch the show and then walk out into the open air. But this is our real life, and there are not even fire exits.
Send Pickett a note of thanks for this piece here.