Congress outlaws protest near Secret Service-protected

Rick Santorum and his imaginary friend, God

The difference between the US President and a king, as any red-blooded American knows, is that you can tell the king of America to fuck himself. He probably won’t do it, but it’s nice to be able to make the recommendation. Living in the United States got a little less nice last week, when the House of Representatives approved HR 347—a bill that The Hill specifically describes as “non-controversial.” The Hill is like the guy at the poker table who looks at his cards, shakes his head, sighs and then calls three hundred dollars. In addition to “clarify[ing] in US law that it is illegal to trespass on White House grounds,” the full text of the HR 347 contains the follwing:

(1) the term ‘restricted buildings or grounds’ means any posted, cordoned off, or otherwise restricted area—

(A) of the White House or its grounds, or the Vice President’s official residence or its grounds

(B) of a building or grounds where the President or other person protected by the Secret Service is or will be temporarily visiting; or

(C) of a building or grounds so restricted in conjunction with an event designated as a special event of national significance;

It is now a felony to glitterbomb Rick Santorum.

First of all, don’t glitterbomb Rick Santorum. Even Rick Santorum won’t realize you did it, and your hoarse shrieking will only excite the guy from Titus Andronicus. Secondly, now that he is protected by the Secret Service, Santorum takes “restricted buildings or grounds” with him. The troublingly-named Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011 makes him a sort of moving no-protest zone—along with Mitt Romney, the President, and Joe Biden.* If Santorum were to hold a campaign rally at, say, Zucotti Park of September—here the collapse of that protest stiffens the metaphor—everyone at Occupy Wall Street would become liable to arrest. The demonstration becomes illegal the moment it demonstrates to a powerful person.

The purpose of HR 347 is probably not to introduce a way to quash protest simply by flying the President to the UC Santa Barbara dining hall. That would be dumb. The purpose of HR 347 is to find a way to punish those who harass the president or candidates for president when that harassment does not fall under the rubrics of assault, trespassing, disorderly conduct or other laws. So, you know—when you’re doing something that isn’t illegal. The good, mildly paranoid people at Reason have put together a good analysis of ways HR 347 could be abused. It’s depressing that their best media source is Russia Today, since the silence of American news outlets has been deafening. But more depressing than the potential abuse of HR 347 is the purpose for which it was actually intended.

The Federal Restricted Buildings and Ground Improvement Act of 2011 operatively criminalizes the act of annoying the president. The right to annoy must not be infringed. In an America where many, many layers of administration separate the ordinary person from the apex of his government, the right to protest is a small but significant leveler. You may not be able to keep the president from invading Iraq, but you can look him in the eye and tell him he’s an anus for doing so. By can, I mean could. Thanks to HR 347, the president and the besuited millionaires vying to succeed him now bring with them an aura of federally mandated respect.

In this way, they resemble nothing so much as kings. Over in England, where you’ll enjoy what rights you are given and put vinegar on your fries and like it, the royal personage has little real power but plenty of legally-ordained respect. He can’t start a land war in Asia, but you can’t look him in the eye.* Within a system that is basically egalitarian, this state of affairs preserves a gesture at inequality. It is an expression of the British commitment to aristocracy, whatever history and the law should eventually make it mean.

That makes it a horrifically wrong law for America. Given the enormous hereditary fortunes amassed in the last generation, the recent obliteration of any limit on election spending, and the stone fact that all serious candidates for president are currently millionaires, the egalitarian experiment may continue in hypothesis only. But our hypothesis will be acknowledged, dammit. The American people must be allowed, one by one and en masse, to instruct power to fuck itself. When protest is increasingly toothless, that gesture may be all we have.

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  1. Does this mean that Republicans can no longer stand up during the State of the Union address and yell “Liar!”?

  2. Three comments:

    One of my brothers was drunk and causing a ruckus at one of Joe Biden’s campaign events. He didn’t know where he was however (the Hayward, not the Biden) and so didn’t realize he’d pissed off the VP until a friend of mine (who happened to see it) mentioned the incident just last year. The brother still didn’t know who Biden was, but perhaps the Biden remembers the Hayward?

    I don’t understand how the new law would make glitterbombing Santorum any more or less legal — the way you describe it, it sounds like it only applies to trespassing, not annoying; for instance, hanging out uninvited in Santorum’s kitchen at night?

    About your first sidenote: Are you consciously promoting The Onion’s completely made-up (and rather genius) take on Biden? Or has this just bled into the popular consciousness by now? Has that comic version of him gone to American late night talk shows and SNL? Will it? If it has/will, it’d be a curious statement on mass creativity failure, and on satirists’ need to create an instantly recognizable cartoon version of public figures.

  3. To answer Mose:

    “You can see it in The Onion’s depiction of Joe Biden, whose behavior bears little resemblance to that of actual Joe Biden but somehow captures his essence better than anything the Vice President himself has ever done.” – Dan Brooks

  4. Three more things:

    1. Why is that glitterbomb Youtube video epigraphed by an Esurance ad? It only has 22,000+ views, and I always figured there was a threshold of views a video had to reach to get ads. Anyone understand how this works?

    2. I’m all for gay rights and I’m all for the general political “awareness” (I hate that word) that Occupy Wall Street has created in the public, but hearing the glitter-bomber scream “Occupy!” as she’s getting dragged away made me cringe. Is there some law of political action that the ones most likely to “act” are also the ones least likely to know what the fuck they’re talking about?

    3. @Mothership…John Adams to Jay Warren, April 1776:

    “We may please ourselves with the prospect of free and popular governments, but there is great danger that these governments will not make us happy. God grant that they may! But I fear that in every Assembly members will obtain an influence by noise, not sense; by meanness, not greatness; by ignorance, not learning; by contracted hearts, not large souls. I fear, too, that it will be impossible to convince people to establish wise regulations.
    There is one thing, my dear sir, that must be attempted and sacredly observed, or we are all undone. There must be decency and respect and veneration introduced for persons in authority, of every rank, or we are undone.”

    Noise, meanness, and small souls: that’s your Republican primary, right there.

  5. And regarding the post, I think there probably does have to be protection for major candidates for office. It sucks to spend tax dollars guarding a Rick Santorum, but he’s one of two possible Republican candidates and once shit golem drops out, he could easily win the nomination. However, I think we’d have agreed four years ago that, once it was down to Hillary and Obama for the nomination, it would have been a good use of money to protect a man who might possibly be the Democratic Party nominee/President, especially given America’s illustrious history of murdering it’s black leaders (and, you know, 5,000 lynchings in the last century). It’s bitterly ironic that the law has been proposed at a time when a mega-rich white automaton and a rich white Opus Dei-member are running.

    And I too like to pretend that there is some egalitarian essence that is America, but it’s just not so. It was always an oligarchy, run by merchants and slaveholders who wrote their own laws and protected themselves. I refer us all to the collected works of Hamilton, Madison, and Washington. I do think there is an “idea” of some egalitarian past, when the millionaires (or their historical equivalents) didn’t run things, but this idea is a fiction.

    In Madison’s own words, during the debates at the Constitutional Convention: “In England, at this day, if elections were open to all classes of people, the property of the landed proprietors would be insecure. An agrarian law would soon take place. If these observations be just, our government ought to secure the permanent interests of the country against innovation. Landholders ought to have a share in the government, to support these invaluable interests, and to balance and check the other. They ought to be so constituted as to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority. The senate, therefore, ought to be this body; and to answer these purposes, they ought to have permanency and stability. Various have been the propositions; but my opinion is, the longer they continue in office, the better will these views be answered.”

    So, the main framer of the Constitution would have cracked down on Occupy, would have opposed “agrarian law” (i.e., land reform), and preferred an absence of term limits in order for the “opulent minority” to protect itself against the “majority.” Madison was a 1%-er, and egalitarianism scared him. The fact that here and now, in the system he basically designed (or at least shepherded through), that we can pretend that somehow we’ve lost our way, lost our egalitarian innocence, or some previously existing America. The opulent minority is very well protected from the majority, the permanent interests are protected against innovation, and this new law is simply a continuation—not a deviation—of a system that’s been remarkably stable for 200+ years. The system is working as it was designed.

  6. Sentence fragment which harms argument: “The fact that here and now, in the system he basically designed (or at least shepherded through), that we can pretend that somehow we’ve lost our way, lost our egalitarian innocence, or some previously existing America.”

    I would like to delete the second “that” in the sentence, and I would add to the end of it the words, “…, is fairly delusional.”

  7. Occupy protesters, if that is their real name, rarely fail to embarrass me for sharing their opinions. Thankfully they’re probably not authentic protesters, and just ones paid by Santorum supporters to make him look good.

  8. Dear Mr Brooks,
    Thank you for your kind recommendation for me to go fuck myself. Suggestions of this nature are always welcome.
    The King of America

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