Watching Liberty Booed Off the Stage at Two Conventions

Despite our particular aversion to the whole “reality show” genre of television, and our general disdain of the entire medium altogether, we did make a point to log onto the internet Wednesday evening to watch and listen to C-Span’s coverage of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’ address to the Republican National Convention. Our oddball tastes in entertainment include an affinity for political rhetoric, and Cruz is as good at it as anybody these days, and his address did prove a most fascinating episode. The Senator seemed to deliver a robustly persuasive argument against the presumptive and all-but-certain Democratic nominee, but he he only once mentioned the official Republican nominee by name, and at no point was there an unambiguous endorsement, so those who have been closely following the plot of this dreary tale are sure to have noticed some fascinating further ambiguities.
If you’ve been happily distracted from this dreary tale you need to understand that Sen. Cruz is better known to fans of the habitually lying official Republican nominee as “Lyin'” Ted Cruz, for reasons that have never been adequately explained, and that back when they were the last two contenders still vying for the nomination the now-official Republican nominee threatened to “spill the beans” on Cruz’ wife and “tweeted” out his gloat that she was uglier than the now-official Republican nominee’s plagiarizing-from-Michelle-Obama third super-model trophy wife, and claimed that Cruz was actually an oh-my-God punting-on-third-down Canadian and that his Cuban-born father had been in on the assassination of John F. Kennedy, based solely on the reporting of the official Republican nominee’s good friends at The National Enquirer, so the address was full of intriguing plot lines. There was a gracious and specific congratulation to the now-official Republican nominee who had shamelessly and ridiculously slandered Cruz’ wife and father and personal history, and a rousing denunciation of the undeniably awful presumptive and all-but-certain Democratic nominee, but in terms that don’t reflect well on the now-official Republican nominee.
His strikingly brief address quite persuasively made the case that the traditional Republican value of freedom of speech is at odds with a presumptive and all-but-certain Democratic nominee who would overturn the Citizens United ruling that people are free to criticize her, and generously neglected to mention that the official Republican nominee has promised that anyone who criticizes him will have “problems, such problems” should he win. He affirmed the right of homosexuals to pursue their preferences but stood up for the right of others not to be involved, without mentioning that both of America’s major parties now seem on board with more authoritarian post-sexual-revolution measures, and he spoke against open borders while also speaking well of the father who legally came to this country from communist Cuba and all the other legal immigrants who had nothing to do with the assassination of Kennedy. He spoke about giving parents a choice in educating their children, which neither party’s official or all-but-certain nominees ever mention, and the state’s rights on everything from marijuana to California-style taxation that also largely go unmentioned. All in all it was a stem-winding speech against the presumptive and all-but-certain Democratic nominee, but hardly a ringing endorsement of the now-official Republican nominee.

Which of course wound up with him being booed off the stage by the Republican National Convention. He ended by saying that “We will unite the country by standing together for shared values by standing for liberty,” and in this sorry virtual reality show that seems to define our actual reality that will get you booed off any of the available stages. We’d have preferred that he defended the honor of the one wife of his youth and the pro-American immigrant father who surely had nothing to do with the assassination of Kennedy, no matter what craziness the official Republican nominee’s friends at The National Enquirer concocted, and been more frank about the lies being told by both of the major party candidates, but at this point we’ll argue that “Lyin’ Ted” was at least more truthful than either of the official and all-but-certain major party nominees and made a stronger case against the presumptive and all-but-certain Democratic nominee than the now-official Republican nominee ever could, and we’ll hold out faint hope that next time around will be better.

— Bud Norman

The Greatest Degeneration

The pleasant thought hadn’t occurred to us until we came across it in the lurid pages of New York City’s tabloid press, of all places, but it seems the upcoming presidential election “will likely be the last hurrah of the baby boomers.” No matter what horrors the race seems likely to inflict upon America’s once-great republic, well, at least we’ve got that going for us.
We came along at the very end of the officially-defined “Baby Boom” and are thus counted in that demographic cohort, even if our parents watched World War II on newsreels and instead served nobly in the subsequent Cold War and we therefore missed out on all the wild hippie sex at the rock festivals and anti-war protest rallies, so we’ve long been resentful witnesses to what n awful mess the bullying older brothers and sisters in our demographic cohort have made of things. Still, even we are disappointed that so many decades after the dawning of the Age of Aquarius all that talk of free speech and free love and Peter Max psychedelia the “baby boomers” are offering up the likes of 68-year-old Hillary Clinton and 69-year-old Donald Trump as leaders of the land, and that the slightly ahead-of-the-demographic-cohort 74-year-old Bernie Sanders, who is merely offering free stuff, seems to be the favorite of all the dimwitted young hipsters we know. Yet here we are, and in retrospect it all seems so predictable.
The world we were born into was by means no perfect, as there was undeniably a brutally and officially enforced racism in much of America and a more insidious but effective social restraints everywhere on women’s ambitions and opportunities and freedom to engage in wild hippie sex at rock festivals and anti-war rallies, and back then hardly anyone talked about homosexuality, much less transgenderism or any the other of a plethora newly found sexual identities, but it had its points. The “Greatest Generation” — or the “Greatesht Generashion,” as Peter Jennings once so memorably put it — had survived the Great Depression, albeit with a massive and unsustainable-over-a-century governmental bureaucracy, and had defeated Japanese Imperialism and Italian Fascism and German Naziism, albeit with a generation-long and potentially-apocalyptic Cold War against our erstwhile communist allies to follow, and it created Hollywood movies that still play well on late-night television and swing music that still sounds good on the old folks’ AM radio station and presidents who still stand well with the historians, and it was cautiously moving away from racism and sexism all on its own. The greatest generation’s children, and although we barely knew it we will miss it. Since then, the results of the greatest generation’s children have been decidedly mixed.
There’s no more Jim Crow anywhere, and we are glad of that, and we celebrate the entry of most of black America’s entry into the middle class and beyond, but we note that black lives are still disproportionately lost to the violence of liberal-run and economically depressed black inner cities, and that a “Black Lives Matter” movement more concerned with the relatively small number of black lives lost as a result of enforcement of the law is somehow as incensed as ever. Women are now empowered to run for even the highest office in the land, even if they’re under investigation for serious criminal charges by the feds, but after all that free sex now has the feminists huffing about a “culture of rape” on the liberal-run and ecumenically privileged campuses, and that woman who is running for president suddenly sounds ridiculous talking about it in light of the behavior of her predatory husband, whose “Baby Boom” presidency was supposed to wrap her candidacy in a warm sort of “Big Chill” nostalgia. We’ll no longer listen to anything about “free speech” from the baby boomer left, which now wants to constitutionally overturn the “Citizens United” decision to allow prior restraint of troublesome speech and calls for “some muscle” to turn away journalists from the public square, and we don’t even want to hear anything about free sex, given the legalistic consent forms that the feminists now want signed before a collegiate tryst, which is more onerous than anything those blue-nosed puritans on the ’50s right ever requested. There was some good rock ‘n’ roll, which pretty much had to happen once the ’50s had turned into Mitch Mitchell and there were all those cool brothers and hillbillies standing in the wings, and we still fondly recall a few of the more adventuresome movies, but for the most part it’s been all downhill.
Alas, the mostly downhill progression from good the ol’ Dwight D. Eisenhower of our birth to the current slate of presidential candidates of our middle age best tells the sorry tale. By now all the lefties fondly recall the 90 percent top tax rates and the deliriously high union membership rates and frank acknowledgement of the New Deal’s unsustainable-over-a-century bureaucracies, and they even acknowledge his cautious nudges toward racial and sexual equality, and although the right can only argue that those tax rates and union memberships would only work if you replicated the ’50s conditions of racial segregation and female workforce participation and a world where all the global competitors had been reduced to rubble by a world war, and that racial and sexual equality is best reached deliberately if not slowly, there is still a consensus that we all like the Ike who whipped the Nazis. Good luck to any of the aging current candidates who hope to achieve such a broad public agreement on their behalf, as they all represent the worst of their generation and have no one to fight with but one another and all those inconvenient Seventh Century Islamo-Nazis who seem to have followed the Cold War.
Hillary Rodham was the idealistic young woman who joined the effort to uncover the hated right-wing President Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal, and wound up getting kicked out for her overzealousness, then married a philandering cad who would propel her political career as a feminist heroine, and would slander whatever women her husband assaulted when he was the first “baby boomer” president, and did nothing memorable with a Senate seat won on his record of giving jumbo mortgages to subprime home buyers, and spent four years rolling over to America’s enemies as Secretary of State, and she’s now running with Wall Street cash and a Nixon-level investigation hovering over head as Hillary Clinton on her credentials as the First Woman President. Meanwhile the road followed by the presidential campaign of real estate mogul and gambling tycoon and reality show star and former professional wrestling performer Donald J. Trump has already been paved by the free speech heroism of Lenny Bruce and Larry Flynt and that kid who used to mock the handicapped children on your ’60s playground, and whose candidacy so uncannily recalls the “Me Decade” of the ’70s, and it seems to have missed the brief interregnum of the ’80s and gone right into all the strutting and bling-wearing of the dot-com and go-go ’90s, and for crying out loud he’s the Republican front-runner.
No wonder all those even more dimwitted young whippersnappers we run into in the X or Y or Z generations or whatever the hell they’re called these days are going with an even more geriatric old coot of a Democratic candidate such as self-described socialist Vermont Sen. Bernie Sander. There’s some debate among the old-time leftists about where Sanders is Old Left or New Left, as if that makes any difference, but least he’s promising free stuff, which at this point is bound to be more tempting than all that free sex and its attendant “culture of rape” and consent forms or that icky free speech stuff that now necessitates safe spaces and trigger warnings, so we can well understand how a dimwitted youth might buy into it. On the heels of a “baby boom,” such damage should probably be expected.
That oldest coot Sanders has a new ad showing an old Hollywood-style montage of regular ol’ hard-workin’ and mostly white Americans working hard in what looks for all the world like the America of our birth, and the targeted baby-boomers will immediately recognize good ol’ Simon and Garfunkel singing about going to look for “America” on the soundtrack. The ones who still retain a good memory, however, will also recall the song is a very sad one about a young couple who go out looking for America and wind up in severe nicotine withdrawal and a lovers’ spat and then sullenly read a magazine as the beautiful countryside rolls by the window and never do find America. All in all, it seems a perfect last hurrah for the baby boomers, although we wonder if Sanders paid the usual exorbitant fee for the rights to the song or if Simon and Garfunkel’s in-kind contribution to the campaign will be listed on the candidates expense reports.
Unaccustomed as we are to voting for people less seasoned than ourselves, we find ourselves with little choice but to invest our last hope in a younger generation. We can only hope that some corny old kernel of the church-going and child-raising and nudging toward equality of that old Ike world still persists in the new, and will find purchase in the soil of a still-fertile America, for we fear that our generation has cast its seed upon the ground.

— Bud Norman

Our Foul-Mouthed and Politically Correct Politics

By now you’ve probably seen the video of two cute young Latino children cussing Donald Trump with all the vulgarity of a late-night cable television comedian. It’s “gone viral,” as they say in the internet biz, and has no doubt generated a lot of t-shirt sales for the “Deport Racism 2016” group that came up with the idea. We don’t expect it will adversely affect Trump’s popularity, however, as the average viewer will probably be more inclined to support him so that he might deport the foul-mouthed urchins at the first opportunity. What we find most interesting about the video is the left’s continuing fondness for obscenity.
Drop in on any left-leaning web site or “alternative” newspaper and you’ll notice a proliferation of profanity, of course the movies and television shows that the vast west wing of Hollywood produces are full of foul language, a similar vulgarity seems to pervade the conversations of most of our liberal friends, even the Vice President of the United States felt compelled drop an “F-bomb” to commemorate the passage of Obamacare, and this isn’t the first time that children have been dragged into it. The left regards cussing as authentically proletarian, even though the authentic proletariate is still saying grace before a meal and washing its kids’ mouths out with soap for such outbursts, and it fancies itself bravely defying the stultifying conventions of bourgeois society, even though it’s been a long time since the martyrdom of Lenny Bruce and by now what’s left of bourgeois society is no longer capable of stultifying even the most obnoxious behaviors.
Our newly-won freedom to spew curse words might be considered a small and insignificant expansion of liberty, but it’s hardly ample compensation for all the restrictions that the left wants to impose. Everything from %&*# to *+$@ is now allowed in the public square, but all sorts of formerly useful and respectable terms are now forbidden in polite company. “He” is an offensive word if used in reference to men who consider themselves women, “merit” and “hard work” are considered racist code in the more refined quarters of academia, of course “illegal immigrant” is not allowed to describe an immigrant who has entered the country illegally, and in the Democratic presidential race presumptive candidate Hillary Clinton is accusing pesky challenger and self-described socialist — which was formerly a dirty word — Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders of being racist for using the word “urban” in their ongoing gun control debate. Try injecting any honest acknowledgment of the higher rate of criminal activity in certain communities into that debate or the related arguments over the “Black Lives Matter” movement and the police, and you’ll find that the certain points of view are now out of bounds no matter how profanely phrased. Anything having to do with sex, of course, is similarly constrained by the new rules of polite discourse.
Sooner or later, we fervently hope, the public will grow weary of it. Those foul-mouthed kids are getting a lot more “dislikes” than “likes” on their “viral video” on YouTube, although the number of “dislikes” seems to grow suspiciously smaller each time we check, and still the comments are mostly negative and many of them are coming from self-described Latinos who are insisting that it is more representative of liberals than Latinos. We’re no fans of the buffoonish and insulting Trump, and would have preferred that someone had championed the border-enforcement cause with equally forceful but more carefully phrased arguments, as regular readers of this publication know, but we had to sympathize with the many commentators who said the video seemed to prove his arguments for even the most bluntly explained crackdown on illegal immigration. The arrogance and ignorance of the child stars will not persuade anyone that America should abandon its borders, the objective fact that some parts of town are more dangerous than others will not go unnoticed, and all the rest of that nonsense about gender-neutral pronouns and the hidden racism in everyday idioms will eventually become too much of a hassle for busy moms and dads. It’s a bunch of %&*# and *+$@, as far as we’re concerned, but at least we’re free to put it that way.

— Bud Norman

Free Speech and Racist Frat Rats

The latest battle against censorship on campus is being fought at the University of Oklahoma, just a few hours drive down I-35 from us, and it’s an ugly affair. Modern academia and its censorious impulses provide free speech advocates with plenty of opportunities to stand up for reasonable opinions that somehow offend liberal sensibilities, but in this case we are obliged to defend the right to some unabashedly old-fashioned racist boorishness.
It all started when the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity brothers chartered a party bus and decided to celebrate the occasion with a boastful chant about their racially exclusive admission policies, replete with frequent use of a certain notorious fighting word and a jocular reference to lynching, and not in the ironically anti-racist manner of the more up-to-date nightclub comedians. Somebody recorded the event with a cellular phone’s video camera, of course, and it wound up on the internet, of course, and of course much offense was taken. The outrage was such that hundreds of OU students and faculty staged a protest, the national fraternity revoked the offending chapter’s charter, and the university’s president summarily expelled the two students who had been identified as leading the chant.
As free speech advocates we have no quarrel with the peaceful protests, and acknowledge the national fraternity’s right to restrict its membership however it chooses, but the expulsions are another matter. The courts have long held that public universities are bound by the First Amendment and cannot punish students for their speech, no matter how offensive, and for a variety of good reasons. Aside from the plain language of the Constitution, any restriction on free speech will inevitably lead to another, important ideas will be squelched because some well-organized group or another will find them offensive, and given how very touchy academia is these days there’s no telling where it all might end. Already America’s universities are restricting debate on a variety of issues, from the global warming issue to Israel to the “culture of rape” that is said to pervade the modern campus, but the dialogue about race is especially constrained. Anyone challenging liberal orthodoxy on matters of race is routinely branded a racist, even if they are trying to address the frequently disastrous results of liberal orthodoxy for black America, and any effort to ban racism, no matter how well-intentioned, will allow the keepers of the faith to shut down debate completely. Given how many well-organized groups are taking offense at the slightest provocation these days, placating them all would require limiting scholarly discourse to quiet, guilty shrugs and sympathetic nods.
Which is not to say that you shouldn’t be offended by those boorish frat boys and their witless chant, or that you shouldn’t avail yourself of a heaping portion of free speech to express your offense, or that widespread public scorn isn’t an appropriate way of dealing with such unambiguously racist sentiments. In fact, we note that such stigmatizing has rather effectively made the public expression of such racist sentiments rare, and improved race relations to the point that a bunch of drunk frats joking about lynching seems to be a more pressing problem than actual lynchings. Similar results might be achieved if society were to once again attach a stigma to deliberately vulgar language and contraceptive abortion and unwed parenthood and a host of other social ills that the left doesn’t seem to find offensive, but even in these cases we would prefer social persuasion to governmental coercion.
The president of OU might soon find himself in one of those courts that have long held that public universities are bound by the First Amendment, and we won’t mind seeing him lose this one. He was formerly a governor and senator for Oklahoma, back when then state used to elect Democrats to such high offices, and was known for his occasional liberalism and constant devotion to state’s oil and gas industries, so we suspect the same political instincts led him to expel those two students. The controversy caused OU to lose a potential football recruit to the University of Alabama, after all, so the students had not only offended liberal sensibilities but also posed a threat to a crucial business interest. This will only exacerbate the public’s scorn for the two students, and further deter future racist chants on campus, but we’re not so concerned. If that potential football recruit truly believes he won’t encounter any racist frat boys at the University of Alabama he won’t be able to comprehend a playbook, much less an American history textbook, so he probably wouldn’t have done the Sooners any good even if those racist frat boys hadn’t been too stupid to know that there are cell phone video cameras everywhere these days and everything winds up on the internet.

— Bud Norman

Even “Team America” Can’t Rescue Free Speech

Although we are not fond of the comedy of Seth Rogen, we were nonetheless dismayed to hear that his latest motion picture is being pulled from theatrical release because of terroristic threats by the North Korean government. When the tinpot dictator of a third world basket case can determine the choices of the American movie-going public it is a blow to free speech, and we are fond free speech. When the likes of Kim Jong Un can even halt a screening of “Team America: World Police,” the kind of movie that free speech was invented for, we are doubly outraged.
“Team America: World Police” isn’t a movie we recommend to everyone, as it is only suited to certain unrefined tastes. The polite word for its style of humor is Rabelaisian, but such a highfalutin term isn’t quite appropriate to such a deliberately foul-mouthed and dirty-minded puppet show. Those whose minds are already in the gutter and whose stomachs are strong enough for such fare will find it hilarious, though, and notice it has more shrewd points to make than the next ten indie flicks that will play your local art house put together. First released in 2004, the movie spoofs the Bushian patriotic fervor of America in the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, but that’s mostly rendered with the sort affectionate understanding that the great Preston Sturges brought to his classic satires “Hail the Conquering the Hero” and “Miracle of Morgan’s” during the similarly proud days of World War II. By far the harshest barbs are aimed at Islamist terrorists, the late North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il, and their equally anti-American sympathizers in Hollywood. “Team America: World Police” is such a convincingly scathing indictment of Hollywood’s limousine liberalism that it’s a wonder Hollywood ever released it, but at the time Hollywood didn’t have the ready excuse of not wanting to offend any of the various Kim Jongs of North Korea.
Since the original release of “Team America: World Police” the North Koreans have been cast as the villains in several movies, including that awful remake of “Red Dawn” which somehow retained all the stupid improbabilities and bad acting of the original but somehow omitted all the popcorn-chomping patriotic fun, probably for lack of politically correct and liability-proof options. Hollywood stopped doing commie villains as soon as the Cold War ended, and even wound up re-making “The Manchurian Candidate” with some vaguely Koch Brothers-ish corporation as the bad guys plotting world domination, and was more likely to release an adoring bio-pic of Che Guevara. Neo-Nazis still make an occasional appearance in the movies, but that beloved cliche has mostly played out from overuse. Christians and Republicans and especially Christian Republicans can always been employed to stop a high school dance or say unpleasant things about a cross-dresser or complicate someone’s abortion or provide some other villainous plot twist, but that’s only good for the women’s market, and is insufficiently violent for the action-adventure fare that brings in the really big box office, and it probably doesn’t translate well to the foreign market.
Islamist terrorists are widely unpopular domestically, a sentiment that probably prevails in a profitable segment of those foreign markets as well, but of course they’re terrorists and might prove more expensively dangerous to offend than whatever’s left of the Neo-Nazis or the Koch Brothers-ish corporations or Christians or Republicans or even Christian Republicans. From the still-in-hiding Salman Rushdie to that besieged Danish magazine that published the Mohammad cartoons to the murdered Theo Van Gogh, criticizing the Islamists has never proved a profitable enterprise. The same ribald fellows who did “Team America: World Police” also do the foul-mouthed and dirty-minded and frequently brilliant “South Park” cartoon, but when they dared to depict Mohammad in solidarity the Comedy Central network did not air the offend segment. The same network’s Stephen Colbert recently received the effusive thanks of the Democratic party for his long service to its cause, which they will cite as proof of how very daring they are, but they are by no means alone in Hollywood in their preference for a safer sort of daring.
Kim Jong Un has apparently noticed this tendency, if that reports that it’s actually a big publicity push for some otherwise unsaleable Seth Rogen flick can be discounted, and now he can enjoy the same immunity from Hollywood villainy as his friends in Iran and Cuba. The studio has already suffered from a cyber-attack that has revealed e-mails and other internal documents confirming that everyone in Hollywood is as self-absorbed and shallow as you’d always thought, and apparently believes that the North Koreans can make good on its more deadly threats. A few theaters decided to show “Team America: World Police” as a protest against the Sony Corporation’s capitulation to the terrorist threat, but the studio decided to pull even that worthier production from the theaters as well. Any other tinpot dictators of third world basket-cases seeking some say in which pictures get green-lighted can expect the same response, and it will likely have an inhibiting effect on the American cinema. At this rate, the next James Bond will have the intrepid secret agent saving the high school dance that one of those creepy Christian Republicans was trying to shut down.

— Bud Norman

Illiberalism and Free Speech

The deadly Ebola virus has flown from west Africa to the United States, the head-chopping terrorists of the Islamic State are within striking distance of Baghdad, and the stock markets are retreating in the face of dire economic news, and there are more scandals and screw-ups and sob stories afoot than can possibly be fit into a lead paragraph, but at least we’re free to gripe about it. Even that small compensation is increasingly endangered, though, and that might be the worst of it.
The latest outrage against free speech comes from the formerly sane community of Houston, where the municipal government is threatening a contempt of court charge against a group of Christian pastors if they don’t turn over copies or recordings of any sermons mentioning homosexuality, “gender identity,” or the city’s first openly lesbian mayor. Throughout the past governments within the United States of America have not concerned themselves with the content of sermons in the nation’s churches, a blessing conferred by the First Amendment to the Constitution and the sanity that once prevailed in our communities, but of course homosexuality and “gender identity” and openly lesbian mayors are now more important than such timeworn traditions. The subpoenaed pastors had been part of a coalition that included 400 Houston churches opposed to a city ordinance that would end sex segregation in public restrooms, among other things, so there was a special urgency to scrutinize their opinions.
Such fashionable causes seem especially censorious, and have frequently proved intolerant of any chicken sandwich shops or computer geniuses or t-shirt printers who won’t conform to the expected enthusiasm for homosexuality or trans-gendered identities or whatever they’re peddling on the premium cable channels, but the modern left’s intolerance of dissent is spreading into other issues. The Internal Revenue Service’s unequal treatment of conservative groups, that proposal to amend the First Amendment to allow for regulation of political speech, all those stories out of academia about speech codes and bans on conservative speakers, the pesky litigiousness of climate scientists, the denunciations of pro-capitalist private citizens from a Senate floor that is exempted from any libel suits, and a seemingly endless stream of similar stories all testify to the left’s ardent desire that any dissenters be made to shut up.
There’s not much chance of us right-wing bastards complying, however, and it should make for an interesting battle. The left has been getting the best of it lately, but Houston seems the wrong place to pick a fight and unisex restrooms a most unpromising issue. Our experience of Houston suggests that most of its women will not be pleased to share restrooms with the sort of creepy men who will insist on invading their formerly segregated space, the men will be just as put off by the far more infrequent women who prefer their facilities, and that even the most heathen among the will sympathetic to the pastors who raised objections. Our experience of the city further leads us to believe the Democratic coalition that elected the city’s first openly lesbian mayor is largely comprised of black and Hispanic voters who aren’t entirely comfortable with the latest addition to their identity group coalition, and there is likely to some backlash even if some court doesn’t rediscover the First Amendment. It’s easy enough to suppress the free speech of an unpopular minority, but a multi-racial majority that includes a whole lot of women is going to problematic for the left. Targeting Christian churches who hew to a traditional disapproving but tolerant view of homosexuality for scrutiny while forbidding investigation of mosques that advocate an even harsher attitude will also be a hard sell, but until the heads start getting chopped off in Houston we expect liberal sensibilities will continue to insist on such inconsistent notions of tolerance.

— Bud Norman

Totalitarian But Honest

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. thinks we should be in prison for our skeptical opinions regarding the more alarmist anthropogenic global warming theories, and we appreciate his honesty.
The scion of the liberal dynasty argued for imprisoning anyone who harbors doubts about his anti-capitalist political agenda to solve the alleged global warming problem during one of the big “climate change” protest marches the past weekend, which all sorts of celebrities had flown in on private jets to attend, and although his harshest words were of course directed at those all-purpose villains the Koch brothers he made it clear that anyone dissenting on the issue should be behind bars. It’s about as illiberal an opinion as anyone could utter, and was part of a rant that was full of staggeringly stupid misinformation, including the claim that the Kochs were responsible for the war in Iraq despite their outspoken opposition to it, which is one of our rare disagreements with the brothers and one we don’t wish to see them imprisoned for, as well as the laughable claim that they support only policies that enrich their business when the environmental movement’s prohibition against building competing oil refineries has probably done more than anything to enrich them, and there was also some galling hypocrisy, but at least he came right out and said it. A desire to criminalize political opposition is quite common among what passes for modern liberals, we have found, but few are so willing to abandon any pretense of support for freedom of thought and speech.
Kennedy isn’t the only one willing to confess his censorious and totalitarian instincts, alas. The Gawker and Talking Points Memo web sites and a former Clinton administration official named Joe Romm and a former National Aeronautics and Space Administration worker named James Hanson are among those on the record with the same view, and those Attorneys General who have been targeting the governors of Texas and Wisconsin and the Internal Revenue Service agents who were scrutinizing those “tea party” applications for tax-exempt status might as well have made the same confession, along with all the Democratic Senators who voted for that proposed amendment to the First Amendment, but he does have the most prominent name of those who brazenly support crushing dissent. Perhaps it’s because he doesn’t have a real job at risk, and can be assured that prominent name will protect him from the guillotine once the blades start falling, but his honesty is still commendable.
If the rest of modern liberalism were as frank it would be easier to deal with, and would spare the public discourse all sorts of disingenuous blather about civility and dissent as the highest form of patriotism and all those other high-minded concepts the left still claims to believe in even during periods of Democratic rule. The vast majority of the public that isn’t at all worried about climate change, and doesn’t fly in private jets and rightfully resents the efforts of those who do to shoe-horn the hoi polloi into those phone-booth sized automobiles or inefficient public transportation systems, would also be more easily convinced to rally to the right. That’s not Kennedy’s intention, we’re sure, but he’s obviously an idiot who doesn’t carefully consider the consequences of his deranged views.

— Bud Norman

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

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


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