Bush, China, and Free Speech

So President Bush has chosen to take the opportunity afforded by publicity of the Olympics and his trip to China to advocate greater freedom of expression in that nation.

It is certainly a worthy goal. Freedom of speech is one of the most essential freedoms we can hold.

However, given the lengths to which this administration has gone to insulate itself from dissenting expression ( “free speech zones,” extensive audience screening at speeches and events), President Bush may not be the most persuasive credible advocate around.

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15 Responses to “Bush, China, and Free Speech”

  1. Mary Child Says:

    Well I’m no fan of Bush, but ya gotta start somewhere. Let him attempt something worthwhile…

  2. Aaron Orgill Says:

    As a mostly libertarian-leaning man who doesn’t see a point in interrupting every single occasion you can think of, I just can’t get riled up about the fact that Bush has tried to monitor things. I really had no beef with BYU in restricting protest zones last year at its graduation, for instance. Seems a lot of people can’t get the concept of a proper time and place to do things like that. And I don’t believe Bush is a free speech-oppressing dictator. If he was, you’d be dead or worse. You’re going to hate me for saying this, but I think liberals just try to find drama, and if there’s not enough for their taste, the create more just so they can be theatrical like Rocky did every two seconds.

  3. Derek Staffanson Says:

    Mary, you are right that you have to start somewhere. But the point is about credibility (one I tried to clarify by updating the post). By doing more to hinder civil liberties (including freedom of expression in the examples I listed) than any president in decades, he doesn’t have much credibility in admonishing China. It is another in a string of examples where this president’s abysmal behavior over the past seven years has squandered any ability to accomplish something good.

  4. Thom Says:

    I think I’m at least partly in Aaron’s camp. I see your argument about credibility, but the fact is that if China were to set up “Free Speech Zones” for demonstrators at major events (and not arrest anyone who entered), we’d all be pretty happy about it. I’m more worried by our failure to apply any real economic or political pressure on the issue than I am about whether our example is pristine enough.

  5. Jeremy Says:


    Equating Bush’s efforts to stymie negative press coverage of his administration with a nation that has a history of violently censoring any form of public communication is absurd. Free speech zones and audience screening are a far cry from complete internet censorship and Tienanmen Square. To argue that President Bush, “…doesn’t have much credibility in admonishing China.” is moral equivocation at its worst.

  6. Derek Staffanson Says:

    Jeremy, I made no attempt at equivalence, nor did I equivocate on the matter. Yes, the standard of civil liberties in China is far lower ours, even after this administration’s manipulations. That is irrelevant. As I’ve mentioned before in “Moral Responsibility,” our standards should not be based on the standards of others. Bush has actively sought to lower those standards. It is hypocritical for our president to call upon to China to be more progressive on freedom of expression and civil liberties when his administration actively been attempting a regression on civil liberties and freedom of expression here (and let’s be clear here; the free speech zones and screenings were much more than merely an attempt to stymie the press. They infringed upon the freedom of all sorts of ordinary citizens to legally express their discontent with their elected officials). That hypocrisy does indeed ruin his credibility on the topic of civil liberties. We most certainly should actively encourage China to improve its respect for civil liberties, but the spokesperson should be someone with the standing to make that case.

  7. alliegator Says:

    I get where Bush is coming from. There can only be repression on civil liberties in places where he gets to choose what is repressed.


  8. D. Sirmize Says:

    Thom, you spark an interesting thought. On a personal level, we are supposed to have as pristine an example as possible (a la the “mote and beam” parable). It’s interesting how liberals- especially those who claim Christian origins for their liberalism- translate this noble goal from the microcosmic, personal level to the macrocosm of The State.

    So in this case, to liberals like Derek, the U.S. has no place saying anything to anybody until our collective example is pristine. And if it isn’t, we’re just as bad as the state we would admonish.

    This mentality is also evident in the liberal ideas of social justice (for reference, read Derek’s post on social justice that he plugs incessantly in every post and thread). Jesus said love your neighbor. Personally, we should be as selfless as possible without any thought of compensation. So naturally, liberals take that idea to the macrocosmic arena and expect The State to enforce these principles.

  9. Aaron Orgill Says:

    That’s very well said by Sirmize. That’s the thing I just can’t stomach about your “Moral Responsibility” post. As great a nation as it is, the U.S. of A. is a very temporary, terrestrial organization that is never going to fully live up to its lofty ideals. And I don’t accept for one minute that we have to just shut our mouths about Russia or France or the Middle East just because of that. And using the State to enforce these ideals is every bit as wrong as involvement in, say, gay marriage.

    Bush absolutely does have credibility on this issue. I don’t like the idea of being monitored, and recognize that his administration has crossed into highly questionable waters, but I just can’t muster any tears for those who feel that ordinary citizens can’t protest wherever and whenever they want. The Dick Cheney speech at BYU is a perfect example. A graduation speech should be a time of celebration and reflection, and I wish that more universities would make those kind of restrictions, or better yet, that people would show some class and restrict themselves from gnashing their teeth and rending their garments that in my opinion is a tacky distraction and only detracts from the day.

  10. Marcus Says:

    Spot on Derek.

    Perhaps Bush and Cheney has got some shreds of credibility in some small parts of the US. We in the rest of the world just shake our heads in disbelief, that they actually seem to believe anybody is listening after all those lies.

  11. Jenni Says:

    Bush has been one of the worst presidents on the issue of freedom of speech, but I suspect he’d be a lot worse if his handlers didn’t keep him from hearing most of us using our right to free speech.

  12. Mary Child Says:

    I am so politically naive that it is truly embarrassing, so having openly admitted that, this is my opinion: I can see both sides of this argument! It IS hypocritical of Bush to be championing free speech when his administration is unquestionably guilty of “attempting a regression on civil liberties and freedom of expression here.” Bush has conducted himself throughout his entire “reign” with a blatant disregard for the law. The recent acquittal of Salim Hamden on conspiracy charges by a military commission- not even the ordinary criminal courts he should have been tried in front of- demonstrates that Bush is completely off-base in keeping detainees incarcerated indefinitely and without access to basic legal rights. If Bush can’t even get a hand-picked military jury to convict his “terrorists”, it’s pretty clear that we’ve been imprisoning some innocent souls at Gitmo. Bush has continually demonstrated that he actually believes himself to be above our laws; that he, as President, is wise enough and powerful enough to overlook constitutional rights when it suits his design… How can anyone respect him? Derek is right that Bush has zero credibility; freedom of expression is just the tip of the iceberg.

    However, Aaron makes a valid point as far as freedom of expression is concerned. There is a time and a place, and the example of BYU’s Dick Cheney speech is legitimate. Demonstrating discontent toward public officials during University commencement exercises is unacceptable. It detracts from and disrespects the accomplishment of the graduates, and is a poor-and surely ineffective- forum in which to gripe against political figures. Ill-conceived demonstrations are akin to porn: you know it when you see it! I am glad that there is still some dignity in this country, and if it must be “enforced” to occur, I can accept that.

    How do you know if you’re a liberal or a conservative? I seem to be neither!

  13. Aaron Orgill Says:

    I want to be quick to distance myself from even the perception that I approve of Gitmo. On that topic, along with that of torture, I am a little embarrassed that our country is participating in that. However, I think it is ridiculous to the point of laughable that so many liberals talk like it’s the end of free speech as we know it and that Bush would be another Stalin if he had the choice (ahem, Jenni). It’s beyond a stretch, it’s ludicrous.

    You asked the million-dollar question, Mary. Welcome to the Aaron Orgill Poltical Deviant No-Man’s-Land Club. The more I see people try to tie one or the other to the gospel, the more convinced I am that I am neither, and that I’m better for it. I was raised in a conservative family, like most Utahns, and was a registered Republican until two years ago. Don’t try to fit in where you’re not comfortable, and know there are people like you out there, and probably more than you would think.

  14. katz Says:

    This administration has absolutely no moral ground to stand on with China when it comes to free speech or civil liberties. All we have to do is look at things like torture or their attempts to control the media ( http://www.democracynow.org/2008/4/22/pentagons_pundits_a_look_at_the ).

  15. Craig (aka moralrelatavismequalseternaltruth) Says:

    I don’t think the Bush administration has any credibility on any issue, whatsoever, whether it is freedom of speech, or whether it is criticising Russia for invading a “sovereign nation”. The hypocrisy of this country’s leaders is appalling.

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