McCain campaign adopts Bush's respect for free expression

The Rove operative at the center of Bush's dissent-suppressive advance team is now doing the same for McCain.

Published July 21, 2008 2:16PM (EDT)

(updated below)

One of the hallmarks of events at which George Bush appeared was the complete elimination of any dissent. In one of the most notorious cases, three individuals who arrived at a 2005 Bush town hall meeting in Denver with an anti-war bumper sticker on their car and anti-Bush t-shirts underneath their clothing were first threatened with removal before they sat down and then, 20 minutes later, were forcibly removed despite not having uttered a word. Numerous other cases of that kind have been documented, where perfectly well-behaved individuals were barred, removed and even arrested at Bush speeches, including taxpayer-funded events, exclusively for holding signs or wearing clothing that were critical of the Leader or his policies.

At the center of this dissent-suppressive policy was Gregory Jenkins, the former deputy assistant to President Bush and White House director of advance, as well as a former Fox News producer. Jenkins was sued by the ACLU for his role in the removal of the Denver attendees and in several other cases. Bush officials originally denied any role in this conduct, but a Presidential Advance Manual for which Jenkins was responsible uncovered by the ACLU explicitly instructed event workers on when and how "to stop a demonstrator from getting into the event" and "calls for Bush volunteers to distribute tickets in a manner to deter protesters and to stop demonstrators from entering." As the ACLU put it:

The American Civil Liberties Union national office today filed a federal lawsuit against a former high-level White House staffer for enacting a policy that unlawfully excluded individuals perceived to be critical of the administration from public events where President Bush was present. The policy is laid out in an October 2002 "Presidential Advance Manual" obtained by the ACLU. . . .

The ACLU is suing Gregory Jenkins, former Director of the White House Office of Presidential Advance and a Deputy Assistant to President Bush for setting the policy in the manual. Jenkins' policies have led to the removal and, in some cases, arrest of innocent people from taxpayer-funded events.

One of the lawsuits brought against Jenkins -- Rank v. Jenkins, brought by the ACLU on behalf of two Texas citizens who "were arrested for trespassing, handcuffed, and hauled away in a police van" on the West Virginia State Capitol ground when trying to attend a Bush July 4 speech wearing anti-war and anti-Bush t-shirts -- ended with a settlement under which the Government paid them $80,000.

Earlier this month, the same Greg Jenkins joined the McCain campaign to oversee the campaign's advance planning:

Perhaps most important for the campaign's image is the addition of Greg Jenkins, a veteran advance man who ran presidential advance in the Bush White House. Jenkins, also an aide on Bush's 2000 campaign, is working to ensure better stagecraft of McCain's events and to avoid a reprisal of the much-mocked green background behind McCain at a high-profile speech last month.

That move was part of what The New York Times called "the elevation of Steve Schmidt -- who worked closely with Karl Rove," and noted that Jenkins is "another veteran of Mr. Rove's operation."

The placement of Jenkins in charge of McCain campaign events is already producing exactly the heavy-handed, dissent-suppressing tactics that were the ugly hallmark of Bush events. Shortly after Jenkins joined the McCain campaign, this is what happened at a McCain speech, billed as being "open to the public" -- an event which, ironically, also took place in Denver:

A 60-year-old librarian received a trespassing ticket today after a liberal group's protest outside a John McCain town hall meeting Monday.

Clutching a sign that read "McCain = Bush," Carol Kreck was removed from the atrium at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts by four Denver police officers.

Kreck, a former Denver Post reporter who works part-time as a librarian for an education think tank, said she was removed as she quizzed a police officer about whether he could deny her free speech "on city property" by taking away her sign, while McCain supporters wore buttons inside.

Video of this episode was recorded:

Most significantly, the McCain campaign engaged in exactly the same sort of dishonesty about this episode as characterized similar Bush ejections. Originally, the campaign claimed it had no involvement with her removal, and that it was done at the behest of the Secret Service. But the Secret Service denied that, thus forcing the truth to be revealed:

It was Sen. John McCain's staff who asked security at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts to remove people holding protest signs at the venue -- not U.S. Secret Service agents, who were not involved in Carol Kreck's ouster from the galleria. . . .

But Thursday, after two days of being vilified by bloggers, letter writers and others, the Secret Service emphatically denied involvement.

"Contrary to some recent reporting, the Secret Service had no involvement in Ms. Kreck being removed from the area," said Malcolm D. Wiley Sr., spokesman for the Secret Service. "It was not done at our request or suggestion. Any assertion to the contrary is inaccurate and inconsistent with our established policies and procedures."

Because the McCain campaign's ejection of a dissenter was at a private campaign event rather than a publicly-funded speech, many of the legal and Constitutional issues that rendered Bush's similar behavior illegal are likely inapplicable. Nonetheless, the dissent-intolerant spirit of the behavior is exactly the same, and the decision by the McCain campaign to hire a Rove operative like Greg Jenkins -- who was at the center of similar actions on behalf of George Bush -- is clearly a conscious attempt to import those same policies. Regardless of what one thinks of McCain, a McCain administration would clearly maintain in power the same people who have been running the country for the last eight years and, with them, much of the same noxious behavior.

UPDATE: The New Republic's Jonathan Chait -- in very close competition with Bill Kristol for the title of Beltway Pundit Who is Wrong About Everything -- last week wrote an article entitled "Old Flame: Why I still kinda like John McCain," in which he explains that he "still feel[s] some pangs of affinity for the old codger. Where Bush is peevish, entitled, and insecure, McCain's charming, ironic, and self-deprecating" (h/t BarbinMD). The former war supporter and Lieberman lover continues:

The best aspect of a McCain presidency is that, while it would probably follow the policies of George W. Bush, it would put an end to the politics of Karl Rove . . . . A McCain presidency would promise to dismantle the whole Rovian method that has torn open such a deep wound in the national psyche.

In light of the above -- and there is much more here -- it's not really worth saying much about Chait's specific claim. Nonetheless, it never ceases to amaze that no matter how many embarrassing errors Chait and his TNR comrades produce with their quest to show how Smart and Serious they are by being the Reasonable Liberals who praise and defend the Right, they just keep eagerly offering themselves up for that role.

By Glenn Greenwald

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