Steve Chapman

The American Civil Liberties Union took both of these cases, and during litigation, managed to get a White House document that shows squashing dissent is standard operating procedure. "Proper ticket distribution is vital to creating a well-balanced crowd and deterring potential protesters from attending events," the President Advance Manual says. "Well-balanced" in this context means including not only who like President Bush but people who love him.

No one objects to efforts to avert disruptions that threaten violence or keep the president from speaking. But White House staffers show control-freak tendencies that go beyond assuring security. The manual says that if someone merely displays a sign, "action needs to be taken (set ital) immediately (end ital) to minimize the demonstrator's effect."

What effect would that be? Showing that someone disagrees with George W. Bush -- an effect that can't be tolerated. That's why Bush critics have to be removed even if they are quiet and non-disruptive.

It's not enough to keep opponents out of his audiences. The manual also calls for keeping all external protests out of sight. It advises advance workers to get "the local police department to designate a protest area where demonstrators can be placed, (set ital) preferably not in view of the event site or the motorcade route" (end ital). What kind of country would we be if we made the president endure the spectacle of citizens questioning his infallibility?

The ACLU is challenging these tactics in court, and it's already won a victory. The federal government agreed to pay Nicole and Jeff Rank $80,000 for what was done to them, and Charleston city officials apologized.

This comes too late to penetrate the barricades that have surrounded President Bush. But maybe President-elect Barack Obama will take a different approach and accept that occasionally seeing people express dissenting views is just part of the president's job. And not just on visits to Baghdad.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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