The Democrats are still not quite standing up for free speech. They had the perfect opportunity when Terry McAluliffe, DNC Chairman, appeared with Ed Gillespie, RNC Chairman, with Wolf Blitzer's "Late Edition" today. Blitzer asked McAuliffe if Michael Moore should have called George Bush a deserter over his absence from the Texas Air National Guard.
McAuliffe did well enough, saying that Bush could be called AWOL or many other things, but ending by saying that Moore "should not have called him a deserter." This allowed Gillespie to frame McAuliffe as saying that "what Michael Moore said was reprehensible."
Every time something like this comes up it is an opportunity to remind the voters that the Republicans don't really believe in the core American value of free speech. The Republicans are quite willing to tell us that anyone who opposes the President is giving aid and comfort to the enemy.
McAuliffe should have said that the Democrats would defend Moore's comments, regardless of whether they agreed with them or not because dissent is our best guarantee of political peace. One of the reasons this country has had less terrorism and less open revolution than most countries is because we are more tolerant of dissent. You basically have a choice: allow dissent and make diversity of opinions part of the system, or resist dissent and push everyone with a dissenting opinion out of the system where their only meaningful alternative is to pick up a gun.
There is nothing reprehensible about what Moore said. It may have been an exaggeration to call Bush a deserter, but not reprehensible.
Clark did better in the NH debate on Thursday because he said right up front "Well, I think Michael Moore has the right to say whatever he feels about this." Even when pressed by Peter Jennings, Clark replied, "You know, that's Michael Moore's opinion. He's entitled to say that."
Democrats, however, need to always frame this debate in terms of Republican repression. The Republicans in this administration have been consistent in trying to shut down debate by questioning whether it is proper to say certain things when "the troops are in the field." It's time to remind the voters that dissent is what strengthens this country and this strength is what has kept us safe for all of these years.