Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Freedom of Expression in Crawford

From the New York Times:

And you think the country is polarized?

The folks at Security Bank of Crawford, the Yellow Rose and the Red Bull (souvenir shops, not bars), and the Fina filling station where farm elders commune over coffee at dawn in the “Room of Knowledge,” are strongly for President Bush, the Republican favorite son whose ranch put tiny, boozeless Crawford on the world map.

Mayor Robert Campbell, a Democrat, is for Senator John Kerry, which has not stopped him from trying to snare the Bush presidential papers for nearby Baylor University when Mr. Bush leaves office – this January, Mr. Campbell hopes. A local weekly newspaper, The Lone Star Iconoclast, living up to its name, has also declared for Mr. Kerry, paying a steep price in canceled subscriptions and hate mail.

The Crawford Peace House across the tracks – well, it is officially nonpartisan but it is hardly partial to the commander in chief of the Iraq war.

For a quiet country crossroads (population 735) near Waco, the place billing itself as “the hometown of our 43rd president” is not immune from the scorched-earth politics roiling the nation less than a month before Election Day.

[…]

The newspaper, which endorsed Mr. Bush in 2000, faulted him for “a hidden agenda” that it said included emptying the Social Security trust fund, cutting Medicare, veterans benefits and military pay and involving the country in “a deadly and highly questionable war.”

“He let us down,” the newspaper said.

Mr. Smith, 51, the Iconoclast’s snowy-bearded majority owner and fervid Ronald Reagan admirer, said in his cluttered office in nearby Clifton that all three of the newspaper’s outlets in Crawford had stopped selling it and that a readers’ boycott had cut newsstand and subscription sales to 482 copies a week from 920.

In a note to readers in the Oct. 6 issue, he also said, “Unfortunately, for The Iconoclast and its publishers there have been threats – big ones including physical harm.” (The newspaper’s namesake was a Waco publication revived in 1895 by William Cowper Brann, an ornery rabble-rouser who, upon being mortally shot in the back by an outraged Baylor University partisan, managed to kill his assailant in return. “I certainly don’t want to end up that way,” Mr. Smith said.)

The newspaper’s Web site reported that 700 letters had poured in, pro and con, and that nearly 100 people had opened new subscriptions.

[…]

But like the country at large, there are gradations of support for Mr. Bush. In the deserted Di-An-Tiques & Things, by a wall painted with a stirring flag mural invoking “The Spirit of America,” the owner, Diane Binnion, watched a televangelist and bemoaned a lack of business. “It’s a little slow,” she said, “not the traffic we used to have.” She attributed it to “gas prices and all the gloom and doom.” But she said, “I’m going to support him, no matter what. I’d be scared if it went the other way.”

At the Crawford Peace House, which opened last year and in July sponsored a thronged outdoor showing of Michael Moore’s anti-Bush film, “Fahrenheit 9/11,” Joshua Collier, the resident volunteer, said townsfolk had dropped the “one finger wave” and derisive yells, growing accepting if not fully welcoming. “This space,” he said, “helps to prove that civil discussion is still possible.”