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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