Does Freedom of Speech Have a Double Standard?
… The PC Police Say “Yes!”
Freedom of speech can be a tricky thing, especially in the USA where we have come to take it for granted. It is, after all, a First Amendment right, and as long as we do not shout “fire” in a crowded theatre, commit acts of treason or send out hate speech to others that threaten their well-being, it’s pretty much unlimited. So the government is basically OK with you’re being a jerk or simply reckless with the way you express yourself. But what about your fellow citizens? What about activist organizations? What about hate speech as “art?” And aren’t the Thought Police alive and well in every aspect of our lives?
Of course it’s pretty much Sit User Cave(let the user beware) because, whenever you release unsavory, insensitive or simply controversial remarks in the public forum today, you may be putting your job, your career and your civic standing at risk at just about every imaginable level—even though it might have been a thoughtless moment with no malicious intent. You may get fired, terminated, kicked out of school, broken in rank (if in the military), sued (certainly), and—if you’re a known celebrity—watch your career suddenly slide right down the drain for the slightest indiscretion. (Just ask Megyn Kelly, Roseanne and former Senate Majority Leader, Trent Lott.)
For those of you off on a vacation to Mars for the last year or so, Roseanne Barr (Arnold) was booted off her own hit network TV show for advancing her ongoing conspiracy theories by tweeting that Obama National Security Adviser Valerie Jarrett was “the offspring of the Muslim Brotherhood meets Planet of the Apes.” Apparently, this was the last straw in a string of offensive Twitter posts that the outspoken comedienne had fired off. And ABC Entertainment President Channing Dungey (the first black CEO of a network) decided to drop the dime on Roseanne and fire her from her own eponymous show, sitting second in the Nielsen’s in 2018. Even in the controversial world of political correctness, Rosanne probably deserved it. Actions have consequences, and she had to know it at some level.
Megyn Kelly was another issue entirely, and the object of a media lynch mob that seemed to be out to take down the lady simply for the sin of being a successful conservative journalist and former FOX News Superstar—and the fact that she was beautiful, white and rich—and had made some enemies along the way, many of whom had their knickers in a twist because Kelly had cut a $20 million-a-year contract with NBC. It didn’t help that her two shows, “Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly,” and “The Today Hour with Megyn Kelly,” had ratings that were coming apart faster than a Boeing 737 on takeoff.
Still, Kelly’s gaff, compared to Rosanne’s, seemed innocuous in comparison. On her morning broadcast just before Halloween, Megyn raised the question that blackface as a Halloween costume, though no longer acceptable, had been OK when she was growing up, “as long it was respectful,” and imitated a specifically known personage like Dianna Ross, following with the observation: “And who doesn’t like Dianna Ross? Right?” Wrong, apparently. Rather an academic question, it turned into a flashpoint overnight, prompting pushback from groups like Black Lives Matter, Spike Lee, Jada Pinkett Smith and just about anyone else with an agenda to take down a “known” conservative journalist.
So…NBC President Andy Lack, looking for a way to cut his losses after Megyn’s miserable ratings, dumped Kelly, kicking her out in mid-air with a $69 million platinum parachute. So, although it’s hard to garner much sympathy for Megyn Kelly, who will be set for life whatever her career path from that day forward, in the cold light of metaphor, her firing would be analogous to sending someone to jail for a speeding ticket.
By any standard of measurement, it was a tepid offense compared to the racial animus uttered by media mogul Oprah Winfrey during an interview with BBC television in 2013 (something brought up during the flap). When asked in an interview about the status of race relations in the USA in 2913, Oprah noted that for racism to end in America “…A lot of old white people (in the South) would have to die.”
When one wants to compare race-baiting and political incorrectness, placing Kelly’s misstatement in context to Oprah’s would be like comparing apples to hand grenades.
Of course, Oprah is black and Kelly is white. Oprah is a billionaire and her own media empire. Kelly was an NBC employee on a downward career trajectory and therefore expendable.
Oprah, eventually apologized for her cultural bias and was given an immediate pass by the media establishment and everyone else…because in today’s political climate that’s what we do with multi-billionaires who also happen to belong to a (formerly) oppressed minority.
In a matter of consummate irony, three months after Megyn Kelly’s demise, the same “blackface” racial insensitivity issue was revisited at the governor’s mansion in Richmond, Virginia when the Old Dominion’s Governor Dr. Ralph Northram was faced with a medical school yearbook showing him in Blackface, a Ku Klux Klan white hood or both, an archival indiscretion dredged up by political opponents and intended to turn Northram’s newfound term of office into a train wreck.
To everyone’s surprise, however, after expressing contrition and apologizing for his racially insensitive collegiate antics, Northram resolutely refused to resign from office, even when pressured by such Democratic power brokers as US Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and his own Virginia Lt. Governor and Attorney General to do so.
Despite a deluge of protests on the part of the Virginia Black Caucus, Black Lives Matter, and everyone short of Marcus Garvey, Northram dug in, refused to resign and pledged to continue “serving the people of Virginia.” In the process, he resolutely fended off threats of impeachment and election recalls…and he has (thus far) prevailed.
Of course, it didn’t hurt his cause that Justin Fairfax, his Lieutenant Governor (and the person campaigning to remove him) was himself immediately confronted with several accusations of sexual assault, including forcing a staffer to perform oral sex in his office. Then Attorney General Mark Herring, the other strident voice for removal in the Virginia government, was caught with some more recent party photos of his own in—you’ve got it—blackface! (Apparently, minstrel shows were some sort of right of passage for all young political hopefuls in the South.)
Nevertheless, Ralph Northram’s refusal to abdicate was rather unprecedented, because almost any other office holder anywhere would have succumbed to the onslaught of political pressure to “do the right thing.” So this act of defiance seemed to underscore a new breed of politician in America—one that is willing to dig in and fight for his or her position in office—an untoward political strategy seemingly inspired by the current office holder in the White House.
It also flew in the face of the political tradition in both parties of graciously stepping down when caught in a maelstrom of controversy, which brings us to the third character in our litany importunate career-killing comments—former Republican Senate Majority leader Trent Lott of Mississippi.
One has to go back to the year 2002 to find Lott’s now infamous indiscretion. And we do so because it does, in its way, mark the Genesis of political road kill for office-holders who have spoken “out of turn,” in matters of race, gender or cultural inequality.
In Trent Lott’s case, the newly appointed Majority Leader, during a memorial service for centenarian Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, made the untenable error of speaking rhapsodically about his deceased friend and mentor Thurmond, venturing the belief that this former Dixiecrat, racial recidivist, and states-rights advocate might have made an excellent President, “if we had only listened to him.”
Little did Trent Lott know that, at the apex of his 19-year career in the US Senate, this would prove to be political cyanide. And when shamed by his colleagues for his unconscionable praise for Thurmond, Lott resigned as Senate Majority leader after only six months at his post rather than continue to feed the welter of controversy…and later let his term run out, retiring from politics altogether, essentially seeing his 30 years of political service end for rendering an opinion.
We let this little triad of examples bring to the forefront a kind of dichotomy of public behavior surrounding the lives of famous figures, including mega-billionaires and most public office holders; and we do it for a specific reason: Freedom of speech can often be a matter of choice. And if you are caught in the middle of political, social or ideological controversy, you are at choice to fight or flee, to abdicate or stick it out and stand up for yourself.
You may follow the gentlemanly lead of a Senator Al Franken who stepped aside when encouraged to do so, despite some rather flimsy allegations of sexual impropriety. Or you do what Amazon’s founder (and richest man in the world) Jeff Bezos did when he publicly bitch slapped National Enquirer et al.CEO David Pecker for trying to “sexpose” his personal peccadilloes involving an extra-marital affair with girlfriend Lauren Sanchez. Bezos followed this seedy attempt at public intimidation with a personal challenge to Pecker to throw down and “roll the dice.”
So it is here where we pose a pair of rhetorical questions: First, Is it free speech when you are constantly stalked by the PC Police… when you have to live in dread of saying, doing, wearing or opining on anything in ways that someone else might deem as inappropriate, microaggressive, sexist, racist, or culturally biased? Second, is your own freedom of speech, expression and personal departure from the norm, something you are willing or even able to fight for? Apparently, it depends upon where you are in your personal life and whether or not you are ready to stand your ground (no pun intended) in this over-actuated, hyperpartisan political environment.
For this, we pull out a pair of recent examples that might seem like a ripple in the political waters of 2020 when they may well prove to be defining moments for two of our most venerated political figures of the last 30 years.
The first involves (still unannounced) Democratic Presidential hopeful and former VP Joe Biden. Quite recently, Biden (both a gentleman and an ideological relic from the era of political consensus and a functioning legislature) committed the untenable error of describing standing US Vice President Mike Pence as, “a decent man,” with whom he had some political differences.
Almost immediately the Valkyrie from the LGBTQ community descended on a wave of consternation, denouncing Biden’s attempt at collegiality with his opposite number by declaring Pence’s opposition to gay marriage to be a crime against humanity and deriding Biden for his ill-considered olive branch to the GOP’s number 2. That triggered Nancy Pelosi, the true locus of power in the Democratic party, to take “Uncle Joe” aside and apprise him of the political perils of such a statement. Within 24 hours Biden walked back his praise for Pence and offered a virtual party-line apologia, averring that no man who held Mike Pence’s views could be considered a good person. Essentially, Biden caved. And the whole world, including the voting independents of America, saw it.
A short time later, Vermont Senator and ersatz socialist Bernie Sanders, right after declaring his second run at POTUS for the year 2020, made a rousing campaign oratory, followed by a Q&A that was instantly hijacked by a young woman of color who decided—since Bernie didn’t mention blacks until 10 minutes into his speech—that he was culturally insensitive and out-of-touch with Millennials and blacks in particular. This left Sanders, who has never has been good under pressure, falling all over himself with apologies while the young woman ranted on, leaving him looking like what he was—unable to handle the heat. This, to be sure, was not the first time Sanders had been labeled racially “biased” and out of touch with his political ambitions. Another came when Bernie decided to hold his own news conference after Donald Trump’s February State of the Union address, and was told by several black leaders to STFU and let Stacey Abrams (a failed Georgia gubernatorial candidate) have the megaphone. So… Bernie ended up live streaming his rebuttal to Trump while Stacey Abrams got the Networks.
So… (and you heard it here first) we will make an early prediction: Neither of these decent but evanescent political figures will be the Democratic standard bearer for 2020. We say that for the very reasons that—when it comes time to stand up or back down—they will not be able to hold their own.
Now, of course, you have to sit and observe as the “fresh new faces” and their semi-irrational progressive agendas push the Democratic Party farther to the left. And the GOP leadership have to be licking their lips for 2020 just to see them in action. One only has to catch a glimpse of Ilhan Omar’s open-ended hatred of Israel, Alexandria Ocasio Cortez’s 10 trillion dollars “Green New Deal,” and freshman Congress woman’s Rashida Tlaib’s threats to “Impeach the mother***er,” referring to Donald Trump virtually 30 seconds after she was sworn in, and you realize that minorities and women can get by with a great deal more political vitriol than their white male counterparts. But at what cost? And is it even smart to launch verbal missiles at target rich environment of old white guys in the political establishment?
(Yes they may speak with impunity, but the voters will decide.)
Add to this the simple fact that Political Correctness in all its forms is spinning out of control and cannibalizing itself all to the delight of the GOP, who realize that these untethered new political forces may have finally pushed the war-torn independent (41% of the voting public) all the way over to the right because they are simply weary of having every word, thought and deed that comes out of them policed, censured and criticized.
To illustrate some of the newest fatwas issued by the PC Police, we offer a few examples from their files: “Pussy hats” like those worn by the million women march in 2017 are now considered “racist” and “transphobic” (because black women do not have pink vaginas and LGBTQ members feel sexually compromised). Saying “God bless you,” is now determined to be an anti-Muslim slam. Bathing suit ads are now considered “body shaming women.” And a considerable number of major colleges from Georgia Tech to the University of Arizona, from Pepperdine to BYU not only promote “tattling,” some are even hiring students to spy on other students. Microtyranies inside a democracy? You better believe it is. And it’s all becoming more apparent to a beleaguered public at large.
To say it’s a minefield is to belabor the obvious. So let’s follow this with a Truism: Once you unleash a Tyranny of the Minority, the public will stand in jeopardy of being rendered impotent.
This convergence of events has to be chum in the water for the GOP who believe that they have, in Donald Trump, the most unrepentant advocate of (his own) personal freedom of expression of anyone ever to sit in the White House. Brash, boorish, tactless, candid and crass, the POTUS spares no ammunition when it comes to heaping praise on his loyal, his allies and his friends, while firing off endless salvos of invective at his enemies. He berates, bullies, prevaricates and constantly pushes the envelope of his authority. And he does so like “The Incredible Hulk,” virtually impervious to any and all attempts to take him down.
He daily denounces all major media while playing it like a fiddle and uses Twitter and Facebook as his own personal bully pulpit. Love him or hate him, the current occupant of the White House remains utterly unrepentant, manly, macho and totally true to himself. He counterpunches like a heavyweight in any situation. He never blinks, never apologizes and never hesitates to declare that whatever he does is “the best.” And he is fearless.
In the new mad scramble to take him down, the Donald is starting to exhibit that most formidable of all political qualities—stability. And to “back his smack” about one’s right to speak freely, the POTUS just signed an Executive Order in support of the right to free speech on all state-sponsored college campuses, noting the crisis of Political Correctness, and promising to “right the wrong.”
The question remains in that vast murky landscape of middle America where people are less vocal and more measured in their approach to citizenship, where they look past the theatrics of PC hysteria and into the substance of what most reflects their values will they vote for something new, radical and progressive? Or will they opt for traditional values, common sense, and someone who will take a stand?
The last best hope of freedom is always expressed at the polls.