Searing and Wearing Words

One of the many peculiar features of our modern age is the t-shirt controversy. Obsessive news-readers will encounter several of them almost every month, usually involving a student who has run afoul of his school’s dress code, sometimes a disgruntled shopper complaining that some censorious rent-a-cop denied him entry to the local mall, and always a result of our popular culture’s strange insistence on expressing itself on its chest. These days the offending opinions are likely to be religious, patriotic, or otherwise offensive to prevailing polite opinion, which is yet another peculiar feature of our modern age.
The latest spate of t-shirt controversies include a young girl who was forbidden to wear a t=shirt declaring that “Virginity Rocks” and a prominent quarterback for a professional football team wasn’t allowed to appear before the press in a t-shirt with the words “Know Jesus, Know Peace.” There’s another story about an Army officer who wasn’t allowed in his daughter’s school because of his uniform, and of course the recent federal court decision upholding a school’s right to ban any wearing of the American flag for fear of offending the foreign students. The Arkansas middle school that objected to the pro-virginity slogan said it was simply trying to avoid any uncomfortable discussions about sexuality, the professional football league invoked a higher power by saying that the pro-Jesus t-shirt wasn’t an officially licensed Nike product, the Detroit school that stopped the Army officer at its door hilariously explained that it was because he wasn’t wearing a tie, as if anyone in Detroit wears a tie and an Army uniform isn’t sufficiently businesslike by the standards of the Detroit public schools, but even if one buys in to any of this a trend is apparent. Another controversy occurred when some college students wore t-shirts with an obscene suggestion for “Safe Zones,” but that was because of its offense to the school’s up-to-date speech codes rather than any concern for old-fashioned notions of propriety.
Although we stand foursquare for middle school virginity, Jesus, the United States Army, and the American flag, and certainly find them less offensive than the obscenities and insults and likenesses of Che Guevara that shout at us from t-shirts all over the public square, we find it hard to work up much indignation over a t-shirt. Here’s hoping the unwelcome Army officer gets even more groveling apologies from that school for its absurd insult to his service, but the people who could have shown up in primary colored t-shirt free of unasked opinions, or even a nice button-down, must fight their battles without us. Libertarian principle forbids us from any governmental attempt to squelch even the most frivolous forms of free speech, but a traditionalist streak in us can’t help yearning for a bygone era when people voluntarily didn’t wear their opinions on their chest.
In most cases the t-shirts proclaim the wearer’s allegiance to some sports team or rock ‘n’ roll band or clothing manufacturer, which is probably a starter to the most interesting conversation you can have with him, but otherwise it is always something calculated to give offense to somebody. Even when the words are agreeable to us we can’t help wondering if any idea that can be expressed on a t-shirt is worth expressing, and whether those ideas wouldn’t be more persuasively expressed by someone dressed in an adult and serious fashion. The notion that individuality is best expressed by t-shirts and tattoos and vaguely Afro-French-sounding names is of recent and uncertain vintage, and cannot explain why the most daringly transgressive and individualistic figures of the pre-modern era all looked pretty much like else. There were always the extravagant sorts, from Oscar Wilde to Gen. George Custer to Isadora Duncan and her fatally-long scarves, but even these showboats would never have thought of donating their chests to free advertising for some sports team or political cause or foul-mouthed joke. According to the old black-and-white movies even the gangsters aspired to look like respectable Republican businessmen, and and embarrassingly betrayed themselves with a street-level garishness.
So far as we can tell the clothing controversies started when switchblade-wielding kids started showing up at mostly-white high schools with black leather jackets and white t-shirts and rolled-up jeans and basketball shoes a look now regarded as classic continually evoked by subsequent counter-cultures, and intensified when all those long-haired and tie-dyed hippie freaks started filling the local parks with that odd sweet smell. Anyone old enough to recall that era is probably discombobulated by a time when virginity and Jesus and the American flag are the controversial attire, but we mostly lament that people no longer feel free to be themselves without imposing themselves on the fellow just ahead in the grocery store check-out line.

– Bud Norman

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Of Angry Mobs and Freedom of Speech

There’s always a temptation to get out in front of an angry mob, and these days it is especially alluring, but the problem is that you inevitably wind up with an angry mob at your back. Angry mobs are notoriously fickle, as many on the a left have lately learned.
Consider the the case of Kristian Williams, a writer who until recently enjoyed an impeccable reputation as a brave voice in the academic wilderness for opposing rape and other forms of violence against women. We’re not sure how this entails any bravery, as the pro-rape and pro-violence-against-women lobbies do not seem to wield any formidable power in academia or any other corner of modern society, but it was nonetheless considered quite heroic by the sorts of people who take an ostentatious pride in their opposition to rape and other forms of violence against women. Williams was bold enough to write in an essay last year that there is an unfortunate tendency among the anti-rape and anti-violence-against-women preeners to insist that “the survivor, and the survivor alone, has the right to make demands, while the rest of us are duty-bound to enact sanctions without question. One obvious implication is that all allegations are treated as fact.” We read this to mean that the American criminal justice system should should allow a presumption of innocence, and that even a male should not be deprived of his life, liberty, or property without proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, which does not seem to us a unreasonable position, but in this day and age a leftist must muster some genuine bravery to make such a claim. Williams recently found himself shouted down at a “Law and Disorder” symposium at Portland State University by some of that Oregon city’s famously strident hipsters.
A widely-circulated video of the fiasco is somewhat comical, as the fashionably disheveled activists with their obligatory up-turned chins chant that “We will not be silenced in the face of your violence” as a response to Williams’ entirely non-violent writings on behalf of a long-standing and quite sensible legal principle that guards against state-sanctioned violence, and Williams’ perplexed expression is by far the best part. He’s clearly threatened by the angry protestors, and understandably so given the unsettlingly contorted faces he confronts, but it’s a “Law and Disorder” symposium devoted to decrying law enforcement so he can’t call the cops to restore order. The cops eventually do arrive, although it’s unclear from the subsequent press releases who dropped the proverbial dime, but the forces of progress and liberalism do seem to have succeeded in keeping Williams from stating his heretical opinions.
A similar sort of censorship by mob has prevented a conspicuous number of graduating classes from hearing the heretical opinions of notable speakers who had been slated for commencement address. Most of the speakers were arguably from the right, and included such estimable figures as former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and human rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, but some from the left were ousted because they weren’t quite from far enough to the left. Robert J. Birgeneau was a chancellor of the University of California-Berkely, which ordinarily would be sufficient far-left credentials to ensure entry to anywhere in Academia, but he was prevented from speaking to the graduating class of Haverford College. Despite his otherwise meticulous adherence to the prevailing proprieties of liberalism he had called the cops to evict some squatting Occupy Wall Street protestors from campus facilities a few years earlier, and that was enough to render him unfit to still-innocent minds of the school’s graduates. There’s no comic video to record the moment, but we can imagine the look on his face when he found himself cast into the same purgatory of persona non gratis as Condoleeza Rice.
The well-paid folks at America’s universities are quick to defend academic freedom whenever taxpayers or students’ parents wonder why they’re paying to have their children indoctrinated in the latest liberal fads, but Princeton’s Professor Robert P. George is the latest to discover that freedom extends only so far to the right. George is a longtime advocate of same-sex marriage and pretty much the rest of the homosexual community’s demands, but he’s lately been barraged by criticism for his suggestion that other people might have a right to disagree with him. With everyone from Internet engineers to chicken sandwich peddlers to Home and Garden Television reality show stars under attack from the forces of tolerance, he should have seen it coming.
Despite our begrudging admiration for the actual bravery it took Williams, Birgineau, and George to utter their mild heresies, we can’t shake a nagging suspicions that they’d previously cheered on the similar angry mobs that seek to silence dissent from the right. Aside from the stigma that a still-dominant mass media can impose on a society that isn’t paying much attention, the Internal Revenue Service has bee deployed to harass Tea Party groups and the Department of Justice has declared troublesome investigative reporting a a criminal conspiracy and contributors to the wrong causes have wound up being investigated by any number of regulatory agencies, all of which have been excused by the censorious mobs on the left. For now they’re confident that they’re leading the mob, and until the mob turns fickle they’ll probably enjoy the parade.
Those very rich folks with the fashionable complaints about income inequality should keep this in mind, and remember the headless fate of Robespierre during the Reign of Terror that so many leftists want to revive, but the hard-right folks wanting to purse the conservative ranks of the near-right should also pay heed. We’re all heretics on something or another, and should agree that the banishment of heretics from the public square is a bad idea.

– Bud Norman

Strange Times For Free Speech

Way back during the George W. Bush administration a friend of ours used to write a political column for a local “alternative weekly.” The publication was typical of the genre, with lots of fashionably foul language, gushing praise of the city’s more noisome rock bands, and endless ridicule of organized religion. Our friend’s contribution was mostly the obligatory Bush-bashing, with one particularly memorable screed demanding that the president be boiled in oil.
One day around this time we were chatting with the same fellow at a party, doing our best to steer the conversation away from politics, when a local musician with a haircut borrowed from The Bay City Rollers walked up to congratulate our friend for being so very brave as to publish such dangerous dissent. Both men were visibly offended by the laugh we snorted, forcing us to explain that we had assumed the compliment would wasn’t intended seriously. Did either of them really believe that such little-read rants would result in a midnight raid by jack-booted storm troopers hauling the author off to prison as punishment for giving offense to the administration? Did they truly worry that the American public and the press would tolerate such an outrageous violation of the First Amendment?
They were both earnest in insisting that they expected nothing less of the evil Chimpy McBushitler, and held their chins up in the familiar pose of liberal nobleness as they vowed to persist nonetheless, but of course nothing unpleasant ever happened to either of them as a consequence of their political opinions. The magazine soon went out of business, but as a result of an oversupply of juvenile leftism and not because of any governmental suppression. So far as we know none of Bush’s many antagonists ever got that midnight knock on the door, and instead they tended to be rewarded with Academy Awards, Nobel and Pulitzer prizes, academic tenure, and the self-serving congratulations of the like-minded for being so very brave and independent-thinking.
The incident was brought to mind by reading The New York Times’ recent story about Nakoula Bassely Nakoula, who is now infamous as the creator of the little-seen movie that was blamed by the Obama administration for the death of an ambassador and three other Americans during the Sept. 11 assault on our embassy in Libya. Nakoula actually was hauled off to prison after running afoul of running the administration’s sensitivities, with the deed being done by an army of heavily-armed officers late at night in order to complete every detail of the most paranoid fantasies of the Bush era. Judging by the recent election results it seems that the American public finds this outrageous violation of the First Amendment quite tolerable, and judging by the Times’ treatment of the story the press is even more sanguine.
Headlined “From Man Who Insulted Muhammad, No Regret,” the story offers no sympathy for Nakoula’s plight, and instead seems to argue that anyone who criticizes Islam in a way that offends Muslims deserves whatever punishment he gets. Although the Times does grudgingly acknowledge that subsequent testimony from numerous witnesses has proved that Nakoula’s movie was not the motive for the deadly attack in Libya, a fact that even the administration has at long last been compelled to concede, they contend that he “fueled deadly protests across the Islamic world” and “inspired international outrage.”
The story correctly notes that Nakoula has been imprisoned for various violations of the conditions of his parole after a conviction on bank fraud, and convincingly establishes that Nakoula has numerous other glaring character faults, but it does little to allay the unavoidable suspicion that it is more than mere coincidence that he is behind bars after he made a movie that the president found objectionable. The father of a Navy SEAL who died heroically in Libya has told interviewers that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton assured him that “we’re going to have that person arrested and prosecuted that did that video,” and the Times’ reporters are apparently unconcerned that is exactly what happened.
Such insouciance about a filmmaker being imprisoned for purely political reasons for exercising his First Amendment rights is especially odd coming from The New York Times, a publication that was for many years at the forefront of the fight for free speech. As recently as the controversies over of “Piss Christ,” the “Sensations” show and its dung-covered portrait of Mary, the play “Via Christi” with its homosexual Jesus, and other art world efforts to offend Christians it has been especially robust in defending the rights of artists, but it would seem that some religious groups are more deserving of freedom from offense than others. Criticizing Islam requires real bravery, as Salman Rushdie, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and the late Theo Van Gogh all demonstrate, but The Times is clearly more impressed by the false bravado of the Bush-bashing Christ-mocking sorts of dissidents.
The fact that Nakoula is a less than stellar character ordinarily wouldn’t concern The Times, either. The pornographer Larry Flynt, ephebophile poet Alan Ginsburg, and convicted cop-killer Mumia Abul Jamal have all been hailed as free speech heroes by the newspaper, and nothing in The Times’ extensive indictment suggests Nakoula is any less unsavory.
Nor should Nakoula’s confession to the parole violations matter, for a powerful government official intent on jailing an inconvenient writer or filmmaker will always be able to find some plausible pretext for doing so. We’re certain that Bush could have come up with something on our friend the political columnist, and we suspect that The Times would have mustered far more outrage if he had.

– Bud Norman

Tough Questions

There’s been a great effort in the past several days to make excuses for Barack Obama’s universally panned performance in last week’s presidential debate, with pundits blaming everything from the thin mountain air to having John Kerry as a sparring partner, but few of the president’s fans will acknowledge a more unsolvable problem. The president was not only facing tough questions for the first time in his political career, he was facing questions for which there simply is no good answer.

When Mitt Romney noted that Obama had promised to cut the federal deficit in half within four years but had instead doubled it, for instance, there was no disputing the factual basis of the complaint and no option but to offer excuses. The final debate will likely spare Obama the embarrassment of answering to that point again, as it is intended to deal exclusively with matters of foreign policy, but even hen the president will be hard-pressed to answer some of the questions that are sure to arise no matter the elevation of the site or who is helping out during the debate preparation.

The attack on the American embassy in Libya by Islamist mobs on Sept. 11, which resulted in the deaths of the ambassador and four other Americans, will raise several tricky questions.

It has now been widely reported, despite the reluctance of the press to disclose anything that reflects poorly on the administration, that the embassy in Libya had lax security despite repeated warnings that an attack was being planned. The president has thus far managed to avoid questioning about this infuriating fact, but it is unlikely he will be able to do so during the debates.

While he’s at it, Romney should also ask why the administration continues to lay the blame for the attack on an obscure low-budget video released months before the murderous riot when they had to know that it was, at most, a convenient pretext for a pre-planned attack motivated by anger over the country’s ongoing war against al Qaeda. It’s the sort of thing that the press would be eager to question a Republican administration about, but apparently it will take a presidential debate to force an answer from a Democrat.

As an adherent to a much-maligned religion himself, Romney might also ask why the president has been so exceedingly sensitive to the religious sensibilities of those who attacked our embassy and murdered our citizens, going so far as to imprison the aforementioned filmmaker and tell the United Nations that “The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam.” There have been no official scolding of the artists who immerse crosses in urine or depict Jesus Christ as a transvestite, or the so-called comedian and million dollar donor to the Obama who routinely ridicules Christianity, much less the producers of a hit Broadway musical that mocks Mormonism, so it would be useful to know why Islam is alone among the world’s religions in enjoying an exemption from the nation’s long tradition of free speech.

Perhaps so few Americans still care about the lives of our diplomats, the honesty of an administration, and the right to free speech that none of this will come up during the “Town Hall” debate, but surely Romney will get to these questions in their last face-to-face encounter. If Obama and his new debate coach can come up with good answers to these questions, we will be most eager to hear them.

– Bud Norman

Brown Shirts are Back in Fashion

Modern liberalism constantly extols the virtue of tolerance, even to the point of insisting that the intolerable be tolerated, yet liberals nowadays seem a rather intolerant bunch.

It’s not just a liberal administration imprisoning a filmmaker for a low-budget video they found offensive, or a liberal reporter for a liberal network cheering them on, or a liberal professor imposing her political preferences on students, or a liberal protest group menacing a public figure into canceling a speech, or any of the numerous other incidents that have been documented by a reluctant press. More commonplace occurrences also abound, mostly unreported but not unnoticed.

Join in any friendly chat with a group of conservatives, for instance, and you’ll eventually confess their reluctance to post a Republican yard sign in front of their homes or slap a Republican bumper sticker on their cars for fear of vandalism. Their anecdotes are dismissed as right-wing paranoia by our liberal acquaintances, who insist that none of their kind could ever be capable of such rudeness and then tell us to shut the hell up, but we’ve long suspected that the stories are far too common and from too reliable sources for all of them to be false. Now the eagle-eyed folks at the invaluable twitchy.com web site, which scours the Twitter sites for “tweets” of interest, have helpfully documented that our friends aren’t so crazy after all.

The web site has noting found several messages from Mitt Romney supporters attesting that their cars and homes have indeed been vandalized, with one unhappy motorist offering photographic evidence, but also a disturbing number of “tweets” from people boasting of the Republican yard signs they have stolen and the Republican-stickered cars they have damaged. Someone going by name of “Mr.So Different” warns, with typical Twitter literacy, that “IF I C A MITT ROMNEY SIGN IN UR YARD PPL BUSINESSES I AM TEARING THEM DWN N STEALLING THEM.” Another fellow calling himself “ASAP LoLo” wrote that “Jade ripped this bumper sticker off this random car lmaooo,” then adds a typically profane postscript that does not bear repeating here. A Jeremy Cross boast “We steal Romney signs,” adds the same vulgarity, and post a message of himself and a friend proudly posing with proof of his thievery. Not to be outdone, a Brad Kreitzer posted a picture of himself urinating on a Romney. Similar messages run on for pages, most of them similarly foul, and there are more from people promising they will also commit the same petty offenses against anyone who expresses an opinion different from their own. Others merely wish a painful death on their political opponents.

What’s most disturbing about these messages is the brazen pride they express in their Brownshirt activities. A thorough search of the country might turn up an example of a car with an Obama sticker being vandalized, but whoever did it will not be boasting about it publicly in the expectation of applause from conservatives. All of these liberals publicizing their crimes are surely known to most of the friends and acquaintances they send these messages to, many don’t even bother to hide behind some internet alias, and none seem at all concerned that they will be scorned for such boorish and intolerant behavior. Indeed, they expect to be admired by their friends for harming a fellow citizen who expressed a dissenting opinion. In places such as Atlanta, they certainly needn’t fear the police, where a Romney bumper sticker earns a ticket.

In a saner time these people would be severely chastised by the more respectable voices of liberalism and vilified by the press, but not these days. Now our betters are too busy fretting about the unhinged radicalism of those contemptible people with the Mitt Romney bumper stickers on their cars.

– Bud Norman

A Bad Week at the UN

Several of the world’s leaders addressed the United Nations this week, and it was a frightening spectacle.

The president of Iran delivered an eschatological rant about the coming return of both Jesus Christ and the Twelfth Imam, called for a new world order organized in opposition to the west, predicted that the Islamist uprising known as the “Arab spring” will spread across the globe, and later told reporters that Israel will eventually be “eliminated.” The newly-installed president of Egypt demanded that freedom of expression be restricted to prevent criticism of Islam, and the president of Yemen echoed the call. Continuing in a disconcertingly similar vein, the president of the United States went so far as to say that “The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam.”

Obama went on to condemn the destruction of Christian churches and denial of the Holocaust, both of which are all-too-common forms of expression in the Middle East, and he also gave a brief defense of the first amendment to America’s constitution, which he noted is so permissive that it even allows for criticism of himself. Still, there was something unsettling about the specific deference to the prophet of Islam.

Along with some full-throated and harshly worded denunciations of the little-known home movie that the administration continues to blame for the outbreak of deadly rioting at American embassies around the world, the president’s concern for Islam’s reputation is clearly an attempt at placating a lunatic mob. Elsewhere the administration is now conceding the obvious fact that the deadly attack on the vulnerable American embassy in Libya was a long-planned terrorism attack that merely used the movie as a pretext, and the past weeks of thumbs-down reviews of the movie have not stopped the demonstrations, but the president’s faith in the power of appeasement apparently remains strong.

Even if the violence could be quelled by the submissive silence of all Americans, it would not be nearly worth the price. Better men that Barack Obama have fought and died to protect the right to free speech, and more of them stand ready to do the same..

Obama is now careful to tout the American tradition of protecting the right of free expression, but his words will surely ring hollow to the man who made that much-maligned movie, now residing behind bars after the administration found his work “reprehensible and disgusting.” Officially the filmmaker is being held for a violation of his probation on a charge of bank fraud, which reportedly forbade him to post anything on the internet, but the notion that his imprisonment has nothing to do with the administration’s desire to demonstrate its respect for the religious sensibilities of the howling mob is as far-fetched as the notion that numerous spontaneous riots against the months-old movie just happened to break out on the eleventh of September.

The cost of sacrificing free speech to the mobs of the Middle East would especially dear. Those mobs have made clear over the past centuries that anyone who doesn’t believe that Islam is the one true religion, which includes the vast majorty of Americans, is slandering its prophet by saying so. They also regard as slander any statement that takes issue with the misogyny, poverty, disease, illiteracy, technological backwardness, xenophobia, and brutality that prevail wherever the religion has become dominant. One can only hope that futures does indeed belong to those who are willing to take such a stand.

– Bud Norman

Free Speech and the Mob

The scene was reminiscent of those paranoid dystopian futurist movies that were so popular back in the Nixon era. A small army of brown-shirted government agents launch a midnight raid on an obscure filmmaker whose work has been deemed “reprehensible and disgusting” by the administration, hauling him off for questioning under the flimsiest of legal pretexts.

This actually happened on Saturday in Cerritos, California, where a man involved in the making of the suddenly infamous “Innocence of Muslims” film — which has been widely blamed for the murderous riots sweeping the Middle East — was taken from his home by sheriff’s officers at the behest of the federal government. The stated reason was a possible violation of the man’s probation on a charge of bank fraud, the terms of which reportedly forbid him to post anything on the internet, but in reality the man was being offered as a scapegoat to appease the mobs.

 

The White House continues to insist on the absurd fiction that the ongoing raucous protests outside American embassies throughout the world, which resulted in the death of an ambassador and four others in Libya, are solely the result of a spontaneous outrage over an amateurish and previously little-seen film. Never mind that the Libyan government has confirmed that the attack in their country was long planned by al Qaida as a retaliation for American strikes against their terror network, or the plentiful evidence that the attacks were coordinated, or that the chances of such a spontaneous uprising occurring on Sept. 11 are only one in 365 and that the chances of several such events happening several places on that significant date increase exponentially, we are assured that the Muslim world has no quarrel with an America led by Barack Obama.

If the only reason for the violence and threats is an amateurish film that had previously languished in well-deserved obscurity, then the administration apparently believes that it can make the problem go away simply by appeasing the mobs’ thirst for retribution against a man who had dared to criticize their religion. Mankind’s long history with mobs suggests they are not so easily placated, however, and even a cursory glance at the past 1,400 years or so will reveal that Islamist mobs especially difficult to satisfy. The usual result of appeasement efforts is an ever-expanding list of demands that cannot be met without submission to the mobs’ medieval religious views. Even if the mob’s could mollified by abandoning the First Amendment, it is not nearly worth the price.

The administration’s brazen attempt at censorship is all the more galling because it is cloaked in language about religious tolerance and respect for the religious sensibilities of others. The same administration that forces the Catholic Church to hand out contraceptives, that sat silently as mayors from its own party told a Baptist business owner that he was not allowed to work in his city without keeping his religion’s views about same-sex marriage to himself, and which happily and silently accepts the donations and propaganda support of an entertainment industry that routinely ridicules mainstream Christianity, now presumes to lecture this extraordinarily tolerant country about respect for religion.

It will be interesting to see if the people who made the upcoming Hollywood blockbuster celebrating Obama’s heroic killing of Osama bin Laden, a movie likely to enflame the religious resentments of many Muslims, will receive the same heavy-handed treatment from the administration. Once the censorship starts it is hard to stop, but we suspect that some allowances will be made for friendly media.

– Bud Norman

Free Speech and Chicken Sandwiches

We have no opinion regarding Chick-fil-A’s sandwiches, as we haven’t had one in many years and have long since forgotten whether we liked them or not. The company opened a franchise in Wichita last year that proved so popular it has created a traffic problem for the neighborhood, but it’s way over on the east side and we’re content with the store-bought chicken we grill on the backyard barbecue.

Still, we stand foursquare for the company’s right to sell its product, its customers’ right to purchase them, and the right of the company’s ownership to publicly express whatever political opinions they might hold. This strike us as an all-American position consistent with a belief in such fundamental human rights as freedom of speech, but the Mayor of Boston apparently disagrees. He has said that Chick-fil-A has no right to do business in his city because the company’s president has stated his opposition to same-sex marriage.

“You can’t have a business in the city of Boston that discriminates against a population,” Mayor Thomas M. Menino told The Boston Herald. “We’re an open city, we’re a city that’s at the forefront of inclusion.”

Apparently Boston is not so inclusive that it can tolerate the presence of the 50 percent or so of the American population that shares the Chick-fil-A president’s opinion on the subject of same-sex marriage nor any of the numerous major world religious that hold to the same view. Not content with such an incoherent statement, the mayor went on to say that a proposed Chick-fil-A is especially offensive because it will be located near the Freedom Trail, as if the founding fathers would be so put off by a company’s opposition to same-sex marriage that they would gladly revise the First Amendment.

Sadly, such intolerance is becoming a common feature of modern liberalism. The same leftist tradition that once prided itself on its opposition to McCarthyism — that dark era of American history when citizens were denied the right to make a living because of their political opinions — now routinely attempts to deny citizens the right to make a living because of their political opinions. Some leftists will likely reply that McCarthy’s victims were merely advocating a totalitarian dictatorship, while the definition of marriage that has been the standard in most societies for the past many millennia is now beyond the bounds of civilized discourse, but we find the argument unconvincing.

The left’s McCarthyite tendency seems to be especially prevalent among the pro-same-sex-marriage crowd, which has sought to punish everyone from beauty queens to department stores for their heretical views. A Chicago alderman is also attempting to use the power of government to block a new Chick-fil-A restaurant, and some of his constituents are planning to harass the customers at another location in the city with a “kiss-in.” This is ironic, given that advocates for homosexuality invariably think themselves at the vanguard of the defense of freedom, but despite their reputation for irony they’ll likely never notice. Same-sex marriage is by no means the only issue where the left seeks to silence its opponents, rather than go through the chore of refuting their arguments in the court of public opinion, and as the political debates inevitably become more rancorous the left will likely step up its assault on free speech rights.

It’s enough to make us brave the high-tone and heavy traffic of the east side and try a Chick-fil-A sandwich, just to annoy the likes of Mayor Thomas M. Menino.

– Bud Norman

Free Speech Blues

Being ever vigilant about the right to free speech, our eyes were drawn to two particular stories in the news this week.

One involves the veteran rock ‘n’ roll guitarist Ted Nugent, whose name ordinarily would not appear in this space. Although we still enjoy a recording of “Baby, Please Don’t Go” that he made way back in his days with the Amboy Dukes, a band whose performances at the Orpheum Theater in the early ‘70s left many of our classmates prematurely deaf, we’re not huge fans.

An avid outdoorsman and one of the few outspokenly conservative performers in the rock ‘n’ roll field, Nugent gave a rather fiery speech last weekend at a meeting of the National Rifle Association. In a long rant about the Obama administration, Nugent went so far as to say “We need to ride into that battlefield and chop their heads off,” and he predicted that he would soon be “dead or in jail” if Obama were re-elected.

There’s no denying that the language about chopping heads off was overwrought, as one might expect from the self-proclaimed “Motor City Wild Man,” but the prediction he offered seems a little less paranoid after Nugent received a visit from the Secret Service. No arrest was made nor any charges filed, and Nugent later described the interrogation as a “good, solid, professional meeting concluding that I have never made any threats of violence toward anyone,” but there’s still something unsettling about the news that an American citizen is forced to explain his public remarks to law enforcement officials. Perhaps it was just a hyper-sensitivity to threats on the part of the Secret Service, which is no doubt eager to demonstrate that it’s doing something other than consorting with prostitutes, but we suspect that if it had happened to one of the countless entertainers that made similarly outrageous statements during the Bush administration it would be considered a deliberate attempt to deter criticism.

Far more frightening was the speech given Thursday by Rep. Nancy Pelosi, leader of the House Democrats, wherein she endorsed amending the First Amendment to allow for regulation of political speech. Still fuming about the Citizens United decision that upheld the free speech rights of people who have joined together as corporations, Pelosi said her party has “a clear agenda in this regard: Disclose, reform the system reducing the role of money in campaigns, and amend the Constitution to rid it of this ability for special interests to use secret, unlimited, huge amounts of money flowing to campaigns.”

It might be assumed that Pelosi’s amendment to the First Amendment would not affect the free speech rights of such corporations as Hollywood movie studios, newspaper chains and broadcast networks, or any industry that can plausibly claim to be “green,” but that could change if they stop behaving properly according to the notions of the Democrats. We gladly support the right of corporations to state their case to the public as well as the public’s right to hear them, and are suspicious of any party that claims it can revive the economy while flouting its contempt for such businesses, but we also worry who might be next on the censors’ list. Every time some strip club, pornographer, or “performance artist” is in any way restrained, even if only by the public’s opprobrium, the left assures us that such a restraint will inevitably lead to the regulation of political speech, but when the left’s own leaders openly call for the regulation of political speech they never seem worried that it might lead to constraints on any other kind of free expression.

– Bud Norman

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