It's a different view from the Arkansas seats -- up close, personal and all too revealing. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's Frank Lockwood was right there to record and report how Democratic Party officials really feel about freedom of speech: They'd gut it. Which would be perfectly consistent with their presidential nominee's proposal to tinker with the First Amendment by regulating how much Americans may contribute to political campaigns. That was the gist of the Supreme Court's decision in the Citizens United case, and it still rankles the Democratic establishment, which has sworn to undo it.
Those delegates to the convention who wouldn't toe the party line, like Frank Klein of Mount Ida, Ark., risked finding themselves no longer Arkansas delegates. All the party's lip service to freedom of speech turned out to be only that, just lip service, when a delegate dared to have a mind and sign of his own. Forget what the party's functionaries may say about freedom, justice and the American way -- just watch what they do. In this case, it was to try and purge the Arkansas delegation of dissenters.
Not so, says Chris Burks, the party's legal counsel here in Arkansas. "Republicans do not give a damn about the First Amendment," he said. "We're free-speech absolutists. We believe in speech. More speech is better." But not if it departs from the party line. Just what was Frank Klein's heinous offense? He held aloft an unauthorized sign opposing TPP, the Trans-Pacific Partnership -- an international trade deal. Shut up, the party explained. Though they put it in legalese.
The very idea of having authorized and unauthorized signs at a national convention runs counter to the democratic ideal. Frank Klein just wanted to express his opinion no matter what. How American. Or as he put it and put it well: "I'd just like to be able to represent my people at the national convention, and I want to represent democracy. I think this is nothing but trying to put me down and keep me from speaking my mind, and I have that right under the Constitution and the Bill of Rights of the United States. I don't care what the (convention) rules say. As far as I'm concerned, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights trump (convention) rules." Spoken like a free man in this land of the free and home of the brave. The two go together. Because if America doesn't remain the home of the brave, it won't be free long.
Not all the speeches, fireworks, confetti, and red, white and blue balloons in the world could mask what was really going on at the Democrats' national convention: a political party was putting on a grand charade. Tear off the mask and its treatment of a free spirit like Frank Klein's reveals the iron fist within its ladylike glove. Amanda Kennedy of Greenbrier, Ark., who sits on the convention's rules committee, ought to know. And she, too, found that her party wouldn't tolerate dissent, however polite or slight. To quote Ms. Kennedy:
"Yesterday I sat in a chair for five hours to watch Obama speak. I'm a very big fan of Obama. I love him. But I was treated as if I must hate Obama and everything that he stands for just because I held up a sign that said No TPP." The party belongs to the Clintons again and they brook no disagreement. Or as Amanda Kennedy put it, "Instead of trying to bring us together, they actually pushed us farther and farther away." Which is what happens when Bill and Hillary Clinton have power. They use it, and not in the most wholesome way.
Clinton Inc., a family enterprise by now, may talk about its dedication to public service, but what it serves best is its own far-flung interests. And if that requires shutting up the little people they profess to love, too bad. And all their apologists -- like Vince Insalaco, the chairman of the Democratic Party here in Arkansas -- can be counted on to fall in line. Mistreat any delegate who favored Bernie Sanders' candidacy over Hillary Clinton's? Never, he says. On the contrary, most of them love him. "One of them was in tears this morning, thanking me for all that we have done."
The worst thing about reducing Democratic delegates to an obedient herd of sheep may be that some of them will love it.
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Paul Greenberg is the Pulitzer-winning editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.