Saturday, July 04, 2009

The Sound of Dissent in Dixie

When leader singer Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks spoke out against the Iraq war on March 10, 2003, she provoked a firestorm from the American right wing.

Speaking out against the war in Iraq, Maines told an audience in London that she was ashamed the President was from Texas.

Various right-wing activists, bloggers and media figures targetted the Dixie Chicks for nothing less than complete professional destruction.

Shut Up and Sing documents how, in a period of weeks, the Dixie Chicks went from being lucrative corporate shills to being branded as un-American or anti-American.

American country music radio stations fed the fire by caving under the pressure being exerted by far-right groups like Free Republic. By complying with the boycott -- refusing to play the Dixie Chicks' music and in some cases even organizing mass destructions of their CDs -- these radio stations emboldened these activists.

Had those radio stations not been as compliant with the de facto mass censorship it's likely that the campaign against the Dixie Chicks would have failed.

What all too often escapes scrutiny in the affair is the role of then-President George W Bush in the affair. As President of the United States Bush was obligated to defend the freedoms of American citizens regardless of whether they agreed with his war or not.

A conscientious leader would have defended the Dixie Chicks despite their criticism of him. A concientious leader understands the value of freedom of speech, and understands the value of dissent.

This being said, to describe Bush as a conscientious leader would be a mistake. This is an individual who strictly adhered to a specific ideological programme even after it became evident that this programme was failing. In his approach to policy Bush proved to be far too rigid to ever be described as conscientious. Not only Americans, but countless others, continue to suffer the consequences of his failed economic policies, in particular.

Bush may not have explicitly encouraged the sustained attack on the Dixie Chicks, but in failing to speak out against it, and speak supportively of their freedom of expression, he failed to live up to his responsibility as President of the United States of America.

Unsurprisingly, John McCain -- the man who very well could have been elected President in 2000 if not for Karl Rove's infamous "secret black baby" push-polling stunt -- seemed very Presidential when grilling radio executives over whether or not they were "networks" and whether or not politically-motivated programming decisions were being made.

The contrast with Bush's "they shouldn't have their feelings hurt" comments is both obvious and profound.

On a day when Americans are celebrating their hard-earned freedoms, it's important for people all over the world to remember precisely how tenuous and how costly exercising those rights can be, and remember that political leaders have a responsibility to uphold those rights.

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