Syndicated columnist E.J. Dionne explains how having the wrong bumper sticker on your car means, suddenly, you're no longer part of the "town." Some excerpts:
Lately the president has been chastising Democrats for not sitting down with him to fashion a solution .... But when Bush's critics show up at the president's taxpayer-financed events, they are often told there is no place at the table for dissenters.
Just ask Karen Bauer, who tried to attend Bush's Social Security event in Denver last week with her friends Leslie Weise and Alex Young. They were given tickets by the office of Rep. Bob Beauprez (R-Colo.).
... Before the three could enter, they were stopped and directed toward "a man wearing a smiley-face tie," Bauer says. The man in the tie told them that the Secret Service was coming to see them. Someone "in a suit wearing an earpiece and a lapel pin" came along to say that "we had been ID'd" and "that if we had any ill intentions, we would be arrested and jailed."
They were initially seated, she said, but the organizers had second thoughts and escorted them out.
According to the Secret Service, the man they spoke with was not a government agent but a local Republican volunteer. It appears they were "ID'd" by a bumper sticker on their car that read: "No More Blood for Oil." So don't dare display a controversial bumper sticker if you want to hear your president. The Republican Party is watching you.
This was not an isolated case. The Bush Social Security tour consists of strictly controlled political meetings similar in spirit to the authoritarian style of Bush rallies during the 2004 campaign.
... The White House's explanation for the treatment of the Denver Three was not reassuring. "If they want to disrupt the event, then I think that obviously they're going to be asked to leave the event," said White House spokesman Scott McClellan.
But this is free speech preemption. The three had not disrupted the event. Do we live in a country where the president's representatives are authorized to read citizens' minds to determine who is suitable to hear his speeches?