What is dismaying to Democrats is a cliche to Republicans; no one has done as much for the Republican Party over the past six years as has Bill Clinton. But Bill Clinton has succeeded in making another significant contribution to American political life. Citizenship is back with a vengeance. If you don't believe me, then just check out the hottest site on the Internet, freerepublic.com.
Begun by a handful of concerned citizens who discovered their comments regarding Clinton administration corruption were being censored in an AOL political chat room, the website itself is the achievement of one man, Jim Robinson of Fresno, California. A retired software executive suffering from muscular sclerosis, Robinson marshaled his outrage and his resources to establish the website. With nearly 10,000 posters and over 120,000 daily hits, Free Republic has become a phenomenon, a community and -- most recently -- a nascent political force of mindboggling potential.
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Dedicated to free speech, constitutional government and the exposure of government corruption, Free Republic works on an interactive basis. The pretext for opening debate is for participants to search the Internet for pertinent news articles and post them under Free Republic's many topics to discussion boards of which "Whitewater" -- the catchall Clinton scandal header -- sizzles the loudest. And then -- like a decorative tank of pirhanas tossed a treat by a friendly barkeep -- posters move in to dissect and critique the article.
What emerges by the end of the fast-moving discussion "thread" no longer bears the prejudicial marks of journalists belonging to what FR characterizes as "the lamestream media." Freepers, as Lucianne Goldberg has dubbed them, employ links to other Internet sites for unusual citations, contrary opinions and facts supportive of their various arguments. Original material found wanting is received no differently. Dubious sourcing and fuzzy thinking take a drubbing. In fact, FR's forum is rigorous enough to have helped develop several contributors' writing careers: Lawyer J. Peter Mulhern went from a lengthy call-in encounter with Rush Limbaugh to a column for The Washington Weekly after a stint as an FR regular; and David Burge, the IowaHawk, whose whimsical and hilarious "verbal cartoons" lampooning the political left make him a FR favorite, lasted just long enough to get plucked by the Conservative News Network. Since the posts and accompanying threads are indexed and archived daily, FR's history along with that of the nation is readily available.
Otherwise, tinker, tailor, soldier are all to be found on the Forum -- a cornucopia of experience and knowledge -- who are joined by White House monitors, disenchanted Democrats, San Francisco "soccer moms with brains," discouraged feminists and the occasional liberal iconoclast. New players stumble onto the site usually via a link from Drudge, WorldNetDaily, Town Hall or other news site while still others are tipped to the political cyber-salon by a friend or relative. When "lurkers," who often prowl the website for months, finally emerge in discussion threads, their first comments almost always reflect the same relief, gratitude and simple awe at the human resources assembled common to most posters: "I love Free Republic!"; "I can't believe what I'm seeing, I thought I was the only person in the country concerned about this administration!"; and "Free Republic forever!"; are typical of first posts.
The site's development has been fueled by the Clintons' political thuggery. En masse, freepers form one giant collective detective bent on cracking a devilishly complicated case. Relevant facts are assembled, questions asked and informed speculation engaged in daily, hour by hour. With an alert and articulate investigative team numbering in the thousands, the exercise makes for riveting entertainment. Colorful villains enliven the storyline; there's "Slick," of course, a/k/a "Bent" and "Clintoon," there's "Hitlery" a/k/a "Shrillery" and "Hildebeast," and there's "Whorealdo," "CarVILE," "Sid Bluminsky," "George Steppinalloverus" and other luminaries from the "Kneepad Democrats" branch of the DNC.
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But FR is not just conservative angst and sly mockery. The site was instrumental in the quick exposure of CNN's fraudulent report regarding the alleged use of nerve gas against U.S. deserters during the Vietnam War, in the overturning of Clinton's attempt to negate U.S. federalism with Executive Order 13083 (signed when he was in Birmingham, England) and in achieving a moratorium on funding for a national identification card and for re-examining the desirability of a national data bank of all citizens' private medical records. Emboldened by success, it was shortly after the CNN fraud was revealed that Free Republic evolved yet again; organized political protest was undertaken by members of the regional chapters which formed rapidly over the summer.
Ever since Labor Day, Bill Clinton has had nearly every public appearance in the course of his nonstop fundraising dogged by determined freepers waving protest signs and shouting stinging chants ("He's late, he's late, he musta had a date!"). Consequently, Barbara Boxer, Carolyn "Mostly-Fraud" and other endangered Democrats have had to resort to playing hide and seek with freepers.
Some freepers suspect their growing effectiveness tipped the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post to file suit several weeks ago against Jim Robinson and Free Republic for violation of their property's copyright based on freepers posting entire articles from their respective publications. FR's position is that the postings and discussion threads compare to neighbors mulling over the daily newspapers around a kitchen table and are therefore allowed under the fair use doctrine, which permits the nonprofit use of copyrighted material for purposes of public discussion.
The courts must sort it out but if I were writing the script, I'd pursue Free Republic's defense on the "creation of something new" aspect of the fair use doctrine. The website is unlike any other venue in American life; the newspaper articles alone are just so much fishwrapping for tomorrow's garbage, but the archived material is the unique product of an informed community of engaged citizenry; the very purpose the founders intended free speech to serve.
This week Free Republic is undergoing another evolutionary leap, an unintended consequence of intoxicated Teamsters having roughed up demonstrators earlier this month in Philadelphia. After viewing television footage of the incident, Jim Robinson determined he'd had enough. He would, he posted to the forum, travel to Washington while the weather was still warm enough for a lone man in a wheelchair to spend the day outside the White House holding aloft a protest sign.
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Within hours, several hundred people determined that Jim Robinson wouldn't be making that journey alone. Now the protesters number in the thousands and Free Republic's "March for Justice" has been moved on account of its growing size from Lafayette Park to the Ellipse and from there to the Washington Monument.
On Saturday, literally thousands of average Americans -- people who look like your neighbors because they are your neighbors -- from across the country, many of whom never gave a thought to political protest before in their lives, will have descended on America's national home in order to participate in a six hour grass-roots protest funded out-of-pocket. They will be standing with one man in support of just one idea; the idea of one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all. Eagles up, America!