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A Study in Contrast

Obama Handles Dissent Far Differently than the Bush White House

Given the debate over the legitimacy of protests against the Democratic agenda on health care, cap-and-trade, and the economy generally, I thought it might be instructive to look at how the last administration addressed protests against its policies. The contrast is quite stark:

Faced with protesters camped outside Bush’s residence in Crawford, White House officials chose to meet with Cindy Sheehan and others:

About 70 anti-war protesters shouted “bring the troops home” from Iraq near President Bush’s ranch on Saturday, prompting two White House officials to come out to meet with mothers who lost children in combat in Iraq.

National Security Adviser Steven Hadley and Deputy White House chief of staff Joe Hagin listened to the concerns of Cindy Sheehan and five or six other mothers in a meeting that lasted about 45 minutes, White House spokesman Trent Duffy said. Duffy said Sheehan told the two officials she appreciated the meeting.

White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer didn’t question the legitimacy of anti-war protesters:

I think the president welcomes the fact that we are a democracy and people in the United States, unlike Iraq, are free to protest and to make their case known,”

White House Press Secretary Trent Duffy echoed these sentiments:

The American people have a right to protest, and the right of free speech is something that we’re fighting for in this war on terror, to preserve that right of free speech. So the President welcomes opinions from all Americans.


While Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was demonized by the Left, he blocked security from removing a protester at one of his appearances:

Protesters repeatedly interrupted Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld during a speech Thursday, and one man, a former CIA analyst, accused him of lying about Iraq prewar intelligence in an unusually vociferous display of antiwar sentiment.

“Why did you lie to get us into a war that caused these kind of casualties and was not necessary?” asked Ray McGovern, the former analyst, during a question-and-answer session.

“I did not lie,” shot back Rumsfeld, who waved off security guards ready to remove McGovern from the hall at the Southern Center for International Studies.

White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said protesters were ‘well-intentioned:’

The President talked about some of this the other day in remarks at the Pentagon. He recognizes that there are differences of opinion on Iraq and our role in the broader Middle East. Some people want us to withdraw from Iraq and withdraw from the Middle East. They are well-intentioned.

Interesting. How does that compare with the Obama White House?

The Democratic National Committee addresses health care protests:

The Republicans and their allied groups – desperate after losing two consecutive elections and every major policy fight on Capitol Hill – are inciting angry mobs of a small number of rabid right wing extremists funded by K Street Lobbyists to disrupt thoughtful discussions about the future of health care in America taking place in Congressional Districts across the country.

However, much like we saw at the McCain-Palin rallies last year where crowds were baited with cries of ‘socialist,’ ‘communist,’ and where the birthers movement was born – these mobs of extremists are not interested in having a thoughtful discussion about the issues – but like some Republican leaders have said – they are interested in ‘breaking’ the President and destroying his Presidency.

These mobs are bussed in by well funded, highly organized groups run by Republican operatives and funded by the special interests who are desperately trying to stop the agenda for change the President was elected to bring to Washington. Despite the headline grabbing nature of these angry mobs and their disruptions of events, they are not reflective of where the American people are on the issues – or the hundreds of thousands of thoughtful discussions taking place around kitchen tables, water coolers and in homes.

The right wing extremists’ use of things like devil horns on pictures of our elected officials, hanging members of Congress in effigy, breathlessly questioning the President’s citizenship and the use of Nazi SS symbols and the like just shows how outside of the mainstream the Republican Party and their allies are. This type of anger and discord did not serve Republicans well in 2008 – and it is bound to backfire again.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs won’t give protesters any legitimacy – in stark contrast to Fleischer, Duffy, and McClellan:

“I hope people will take a jaundiced eye to what is clearly the Astroturf nature of grass-roots lobbying,” said White House press secretary Robert Gibbs during a morning off-camera session in his office with reporters.

“This is manufactured anger,” he said.

Well, you can say one thing for the Obama administration: they have brought genuine change to the way the White House addresses dissent.

Cross-posted to theconservatives.com

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