My Rights, Ably Defended

It’s sort of like Mao said: Free speech grows out of the barrel of a gun. The latest reminder comes from General David Petraeus (a.k.a., the Lafayette of Iraq), who responded to a negative ad from this way:

“I’m not so sure the infamous MoveOn ad was smartly done, but I found Petraeus’s reaction today interesting: “Needless to say, to state the obvious, I disagree with the message of those who are exercising the First Amendment right that generations of soldiers have sought to preserve for Americans.”

A friend puts it better than me: “I grow so weary of that refrain, heard from the military any time any civilian even hints at criticizing these sainted men and women. If this stunningly stupid war had ANYTHING to do with preserving my right to free speech, I’d be a little more forgiving of the rhetorical ploy. But please, General, don’t insult me and don’t embarrass yourself.”

And the same also sends this, from Slate — “Lost Voices“:

“On Monday, while Gen. David Petraeus prepared to testify before two House committees about the successes of the surge, seven of his soldiers died when their transport vehicle overturned in a highway accident west of Baghdad.

“Two of those soldiers, Staff Sgt. Yance T. Gray, 26, and Sgt. Omar Mora, 28, were part of another group of seven—the seven noncommissioned officers of the 82nd Airborne Division who wrote a brave, well-reasoned op-ed in the Aug. 19 New York Times, calling the prospect of victory ‘far-fetched’ and appraisals of progress ‘surreal.’ ”

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Last night I volunteered to do some more organizing work for MoveOn; essentially helping with the local MoveOn council to keep people organized and engaged for 2008.

Then I had this dream: I was at a MoveOn meeting at a house here in Berkeley. Vice President Dick Cheney was there. He was dressed casually–khakis and a red-and-white-checked shirt. He didn’t interact with anyone at the meeting. Instead, he seemed to take an interest in the profusion of hand-written posters and placards strewn around that carried pictures of him and Bush. I noticed we seemed to be collecting them–taking stuff off the walls and so forth and making a little pile of stuff. I looked at what he’d gathered and saw that it was anti-Cheney, anti-Bush material that was folded and torn. I asked him,, “Are you editing the room?” He looked at me, a little embarrassed, and said, “No–this is all damaged.”

Sausage Factory

From the “If You Like Bratwurst, Stay Out of the Sausage Factory” file:

Yesterday, Kate and I hosted a mini-MoveOn calling party. “Mini” because we only had one person not a member of our household show up. What we lacked in numbers we made up for in enthusiasm, wit, and sapient commentary.

This was the drill: We printed out voter phone numbers, 192 in all. They were evenly split between New Jersey, where appointed incumbent Senator Bob Menendez is running against Tom Kean Jr., an appointed state legislator whose biggest asset is his dad’s name and a willingness to sling mud, and Ohio, where Bush rubber stamp Michael DeWine is trailing Sherrod Brown, a liberal Democratic congressman. We found a Kean campaign ad online so that we knew how to pronounce his name (it’s KANE, like Charles Foster Kane, not KEEN) in case it came up, and I printed out a few stories from New Jersey papers about the race so that if a voter asked us a question we didn’t seem like complete idiots (of course, Kate is a New Jersey native and I’ve visited the Garden State many times, so we have an actual connection there).

We needn’t have worried so much about knowing the background. It seemed as though the numbers we were given were in a Latino precinct in northern New Jersey. We encountered lots of people who said they couldn’t speak English or simply hung up when they heard the quaint Anglo jabbering on the other end of the line. Of the 96 Jersey numbers we called:

–49 were hangups, disconnected lines, or otherwise bad numbers; we took them off the calling list.

–44 were answering machines or busy signals and will be called back.

–3 were voters, all of whom said they were voting for Menendez.

On to Ohio. After the New Jersey experience, I didn’t bother scouring the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Cincinnati Enquirer, or the Ashtabula Strident Bugle for campaign background–we just jumped in and started calling. One immediate difference: The households we reached were American-speaking. That had the effect of speeding up hang-up times for folks who didn’t want to hear from “Dan Brekke, a volunteer for Call for Change.”

Of the 96 Ohio calls, 47 were answering machines or busy; 27 needed to be removed from the list; 12 reached voters who said they were for Sherrod Brown; and 10–10!–were answered by people who said they planned to vote Tuesday but still hadn’t made up their minds about whom they’d support.

I admit I’m nonplussed by the undecideds. They seem to split into two groups: those who are so unplugged they’re not really sure who’s running, and those who seem at least somewhat thoughtful who are really wrestling with the decision.

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