What's wrong with this picture?
In a highly publicized appearance in China earlier this week, President Obama lectures the Chinese against political censorship. He goes so far as to invite criticism of him personally, saying such debate makes "our democracy stronger."
But the end of the week back home, the Army bans media coverage of once — and perhaps future — Obama rival Sarah Palin because the service fears political statements against the president among troops who may come out to see the Republican former Alaska governor.
Anyone across the political spectrum easily sees here a disturbing double standard emerging.
Obama was right in China in arguing for openness and non-censorship in the town hall meeting he held in Shanghai when he said:
"But the truth is that because in the United States information is free, and I have a lot of critics in the United States who can say all kinds of things about me, I actually think that that makes our democracy stronger and it makes me a better leader because it forces me to hear opinions that I don't want to hear. It forces me to examine what I'm doing on a day-to-day basis to see, am I really doing the very best that I could be doing for the people of the United States."
Unfortunately someone at Fort Bragg didn't get that particular memo when they decided to ban reporters from covering Palin's book tour stop there — an event that otherwise is completely on-the-record and open to the public.
The 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate, Palin is on the road to promote her new book, Going Rogue. And she may well wind up facing off against Obama as the GOP's presidential nominee in 2012.
Outrage over the Army's media ban has nothing to do with what you think of Palin as a person or politician. One can disagree entirely and intensely with the full range of Palin's policies and politics and still find the Army's decision wrong and indefensible.
What makes matters worse is that Army's reported basis for its decision is specifically based on nothing more than shielding Obama from potential embarrassment.
The Associated Press and the The Fayetteville Observer are right to protest the decision.
As it stands, Obama shouldn't be held directly responsible for the Army's media ban at Fort Bragg. Indications are that he did not directly influence or countenance the decision. It obviously comes from those much further down the chain of command.
Obama may not have initiated the decision, but it would be wrong for him to benefit from it.
As the Commander in Chief, Obama can reverse the media ban and allow reporters and cameras to Fort Bragg to cover whatever happens when Palin arrives to sell her books — even if the troops embrace Palin and criticize Obama.
Doing so will eliminate any air of hypocrisy on his stated position against censorship — and nothing would put a stronger exclamation point on his message to the Chinese a world away.