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MONDAY, AUGUST 22, 2005
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EDITORIAL

Protesting the president is fine American tradition

Societies exist that would not tolerate demonstrators camping out near a national leader's house and harassing him, but we wouldn't want to live in one of them.

Critics of anti-war mom Cindy Sheehan and her friends, who have worn out their welcome among neighbors of President Bush's ranch and among a much larger group of critics around the country, should think about these other societies, past and present.

First, if you will, pull the Soviet Union off the ash heap of history. Citizens there took part in plenty of demonstrations, but these were not protests against government — they were government-orchestrated. Russian-born author Ayn Rand, in her novel "We the Living," described the chatter among marchers "honoring" a communist who had committed suicide. They grumbled about being there. They were preoccupied with chores undone at home, exchanging ideas about how to survive on the meager government food rations, making sarcastic comments. "What do they have to commit suicide about?" one asked, referring to the communists.

Columnist Kathleen Parker surmised that this kind of thinking was going on among the people of Cuba on Aug. 13 when they "celebrated" the 79th birthday of communist dictator Fidel Castro. She wrote that a journalist once asked the president of Cuba's National Assembly of People's Power, "What is your policy toward dissidents?" He chuckled, "Well, of course, our policy is to sometimes arrest them."

We like the policy better in the United States, where skeptics of authority express themselves openly. It happens on small issues: Somebody at The University of Alabama, angry that a student-built waterfall had been bulldozed, posted a sign on the barren site: "This eyesore provided by the UA admin." It happens on big issues like the war.

Our First Amendment protects "the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances." That's one of the principles Americans are fighting for in Iraq.

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