Last week the president of the United States paid a visit to our fair city to attend a fund-raiser for senatorial candidate Bob Corker. Along the motorcade's route in East Memphis were many well-wishers who held signs supporting President Bush.
Elsewhere in East Memphis, another group of people were holding signs that weren't so friendly toward W. These folks were herded into a "free-speech zone." Which is smart thinking. Having all those un-American types in one spot makes it easier to photograph and I.D. them.
Paranoid? Nope. It happened during the civil rights and anti-war protests in the '60s and '70s. Government dossiers were kept on hundreds of people -- from Martin Luther King to John Lennon to some of the students who led marches on the campus of the University of Missouri, where I went to school. Remember Nixon's "enemies list"?
Look, the idea of herding peaceful protesters into a "free-speech zone" is so wrong, so unAmerican so many levels, it's positively Orwellian. Free speech means just that. The president and Congress work for us. The government belongs to us. It is not supposed to be herding dissidents into "zones" of any kind.
What makes all this more frightening is that our gutless Republican Congress (aided and abetted by 34 gutless Democrats), just passed a bill that grants the administration the right to round up anyone it deems a "non-uniformed combatant" and imprison them without many of the legal recourses guaranteed by our Constitution or the Geneva Conventions. All this, of course, in addition to the intrusive powers granted through the equally Orwellian Patriot Act and the spying powers Bush and friends just took it upon themselves to secretly instigate.
So what happens if the next adminstration is Democratic? Will those who now blindly support giving the American president the powers of a monarch be as supportive when, say, Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama sits on the throne?
I doubt it. Which is why it's so dangerous when one party controls all three branches of government. Power corrupts, and the corrupt are now in power. Vote next month as though your way of life depends on it. Because it does.
This space, by the way, is a free-speech zone. For now.
Bruce VanWyngarden, Editor