Thursday, November 15, 2007

Stifling Dissent, Bridge Club Edition

Haven’t we been down this road before?
[A] team of women who represented the United States at the world bridge championships in Shanghai last month is facing sanctions, including a yearlong ban from competition, for a spur-of-the-moment protest.

At issue is a crudely lettered sign, scribbled on the back of a menu, that was held up at an awards dinner and read, “We did not vote for Bush.”

By e-mail, angry bridge players have accused the women of “treason” and “sedition.”

“This isn’t a free-speech issue,” said Jan Martel, president of the United States Bridge Federation, the nonprofit group that selects teams for international tournaments. “There isn’t any question that private organizations can control the speech of people who represent them.”

Not so, said Danny Kleinman, a professional bridge player, teacher and columnist. “If the U.S.B.F. wants to impose conditions of membership that involve curtailment of free speech, then it cannot claim to represent our country in international competition,” he said by e-mail.

The offending message is right here:
Team members have apologized, but in what has become typical of the 30-percent crowd, that simply won’t do:

Many of those offended by the sign do not consider the expressions of regret sufficient. “I think an apology is kind of specious,” said Jim Kirkham, who has played in several bridge championships. “It’s not that I don’t forgive them, but I still think they should be punished.”

Punished? For a “We did not vote for Bush” sign? Take a few totalitarian pills with your Kool-Aid, Mr. Kirkham?

I don’t get this punitive craving from the hard-line conservatives. Actually, scratch that, I do; liberals have been crying for some kind of accountability regarding the Bush Administration’s various crimes and misdemeanors for years. But there’s a huge difference between holding up a sign saying “we didn’t vote for Bush” or making a casual remark about the president at a concert and starting a war based on lies, destroying personal freedoms, legitimizing torture, and letting the country’s infrastructure decay while spending billions on a war of choice. That these actions have stunned people around the world, not just Americans, is no surprise to anyone who travels overseas. I saw it in Italy last year.

Punished? Yeah, someone needs to be punished all right, and it’s not the women of the United States bridge team. But take heart, ladies: if history’s any judge, there’s a racy “Entertainment Weekly” cover in your future.