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What Would People Think?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

On Shoes and Democracy

This is me gesturing toward a shoe 5 years ago. Back then I didn't have my famous beard.

I post this, of course, in memory of the bizarre shoe incident (which would be a great name for a rock band), in which an Iraqi journalist through his shoes at President Bush.

Bush brushed it off as an expression of democracy. I tend to agree with that. Healthy democracy allows for political protest, even of the outrageous kind. And it's kind of funny how shoes have now become a symbol of defiance in Iraq.

But here's the thing. I'd find the whole thing much more credible as a symbol of democracy if the journalist wasn't immediately taken out and beaten. And I'd find Bush claiming it to be a sign of democracy to be much more sincere if the journalist's cries weren't audible from the press room.

Now he's being detained and may be charged with a crime. Should he be? I mean, throwing stuff at people is technically assault. Should it be forgiven here because it was political protest? Even if it's technically assault, it seems pretty harmless. I'd be curious as to your thoughts.


  • I debated this very thing (internally). First point to be made is that another part of political protest is often going to jail for your actions. (See entry for "King, M.L.".) Second point (which you've already made) is that throwing shoes is assault. If an American at a presidential address had done the same thing, would he not be detained and charged with a crime? While I agree with the relative harmlessness of the action, the Secret Service tends to take attacks on presidents seriously, and necessarily so. Beating, no, of course not. But detaining? I can't find a plausible argument against that.

    By Blogger Mike, at 12/16/2008 10:52 AM  

  • I'm kind of with Mike on this one. Even if we were to say that this action was just speech (and I don't think we can so classify, because it was also assault), when speech is dangerous we do place limits on that speech. Speech that causes objects to be hurled at world leaders is probably "dangerous". So even under a free speech analysis I don't know if this action survives.

    Of course the man shouldn't have been beaten. Frankly, I think the best response would have been for Bush to have defused the whole situation with the Austin Powers line that Jeff pointed out. Then the guy and the police could have all laughed their way to jail together.

    By Blogger Matthew B. Novak, at 12/16/2008 11:17 AM  

  • 1. Can you post a picture of you with beard?

    2. I think you can separate the speech from the assault. Should the guy be charged with assault? Yeah, but the charges shouldn't be pursued any more vigoroously, nor the punishment any greater, simply because of who the assault was against.

    By Blogger Barzelay, at 12/16/2008 8:48 PM  

  • Agreed w/Barzelay. The speech isn't the issue - in fact, it rarely is. The violent act is. And I'm not convinced that the beatdown in the press room is a horrible thing - if you thought someone was attacking someone else, wouldn't you react that way?

    Though the Secret Service needs to ask itself how it allowed someone to throw crap at the President. Some sole-searching is in order.

    By Blogger Jeff, at 12/23/2008 11:21 AM  

  • Jeff - Are you serious that beating the man is not a bad thing? What I would do, and I what I would expect the police to do....is to do what is necessary to subdue the man and make sure he's not a threat.

    To take him just outside the press room and then start kicking him does NOT qualify as proper police action. How's it any different from Rodney King? In fact it's less justified.

    By Blogger Ben, at 12/28/2008 4:27 PM  

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