Mitt Romney will say or do anything if he thinks it will help him become president. We made that observation this past year at this time, and since then the former Massachusetts governor has only accelerated his assault on freedom of speech and civil liberties.
In 2006, Romney led the pack of honorees for his excessive zeal in pursuing terrorists, calling for the wiretapping of mosques and the monitoring of foreign students .
Now he’s back, for refusing (when he was still governor) to provide security — even though it had been requested by the State Department — for a speech by former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami at Harvard University. And that wasn’t all, as you will learn.
Romney epitomizes how the Muzzle Awards have morphed since their debut in 1998. In that more innocent time, shutting down a community radio station and removing newspaper boxes from an urban neighborhood was about as bad as it got.
Such stifling acts still take place, of course, and they still matter. But the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, ushered in an era of unprecedented repression. Nationally, the crackdown has been led by George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, with their contempt for constitutional protections such as habeas corpus and their embrace of secret detention and torture.
Nor has Congress provided much of a check. In April, the Boston Globe won a Pulitzer Prize for revealing that Bush had used — and abused — presidential signing statements to ignore hundreds of bills passed by Congress, including a mandate to report on how the FBI was using its expanded police powers, and a law allowing accused terrorists to see the evidence against them.
This police-state mentality has permeated New England, as well. For instance, Muzzles this year go not only to Romney but to the Maine Department of Corrections, which has allegedly covered up its abuse of prisoners by ignoring federal consent decrees requiring prison officials to allow inmates to communicate with reporters; and to Rhode Island governor Donald Carcieri, for apparently backing a proposal that would allow law-enforcement officials to inspect private records without having to go to the bother of obtaining a court warrant.
Traditionally, the US Supreme Court has been a great defender of the First Amendment. But Bush has succeeded in remaking the high court in his image, and three decisions handed down in late June were something of a mixed bag. To its credit, the court overturned a so-called campaign-finance-reform law that had restricted the right of corporations, labor unions, and other organizations to buy television commercials that could influence elections. Unfortunately, the justices also ruled that an Alaska high-school principal acted within her rights when she suspended a student who had unfurled a BONG HITS 4 JESUS banner, and threw out a lawsuit that had challenged the Bush administration for spending taxpayer funds on religious programs (this week Harvey Silverglate delves further into that case: see “Alito: Hypocrisy in High Places.").
The Muzzle Awards were inspired by noted civil-liberties lawyer and Phoenix contributor Harvey Silverglate, and are named after similar awards given by the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Freedom of Expression. They were compiled by tracking freedom-of-expression stories in New England since July 4, 2006, and are based on reporting by various news organizations — including the Boston Globe, the Boston Herald, the Providence Journal, the Portland Press Herald, and the Associated Press, as well as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other local and national sources — and, of course, the Phoenix newspapers in Boston, Providence, and Portland.
His grandstanding nearly nixes Iranian leader’s speech
In September, the State Department asked then–Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney to provide security for former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami, who was speaking at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Never mind that state-police protection is customary for visiting foreign leaders. Never mind that Khatami, regarded as a well-meaning though ineffective reformer, is a useful counterpoint to his Holocaust-denying, nuke-seeking successor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. (Indeed, Khatami is now in trouble with Ahmadinejad and his theocratic overlord, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, for shaking a woman’s hand in public.) Never mind that Romney had an opportunity to showcase his own respect for freedom of speech.
“State taxpayers should not be providing special treatment to an individual who supports violent jihad and the destruction of Israel,” the grandstanding Romney said. And when he was criticized, he responded, “It’s a ‘blame America,’ it’s a ‘hate America’ attitude on the part of some liberals that I think many people find very offensive, myself included.” Good thing the Boston Police Department stepped in, or Khatami would have had to cancel his speech. This offered precisely the kind of lesson in American hypocrisy that Khatami’s enemies in Iran would have loved to exploit.