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What Sort of Freedom Is That?

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Message Philip Greene
It was election time and we were going over the election results in the office. There was a very important school levy on the local ballot, along with elections for school board and other local positions. As we looked at the poll results, I voiced my frustration at the low voter turnout.

"To me," I said, "if you don't vote, you have no right to complain."

My editor shook his head.

"Having the right to vote also means having the right not to," he said matter-of-factly.

This was nonsensical to me in its obviousness. Of course you have the right not to vote, but if you don't avail yourself of the right as it exists, then you really have no defense of your complaints about those who do. Unless there is a compelling reason to not make a serious effort to exercise that right, then how can one feel that they are justified in criticizing those who do make the effort?

But, with the editor I had at the time, I knew better than to say anything. It would merely have touched off a week of tense silence in the office that would make everyone feel uncomfortable. Editors tend to have disproportionate egos.

As usual, I carried on the debate in my own mind, responding mentally to each argument I was sure my editor would make. It didn't take long to come full circle in those arguments and begin repeating them.

I put the issue away and took a neutral stance to the subject until my unconscious dealt with it and brought forth a decision. At some point, a realization came to me. What my editor had been attempting to say "" albeit unsuccessfully "" was that the right to vote is not the same as actually voting; having the right to do something is one thing "" but to engage in the decision-making process, the analytical and subjective choices needed to vote intelligently and wisely is a separate issue altogether. It might compare to having a driver's license but not driving a car. You can still complain about stupid, rude drivers whether a driver yourself or a passenger "" even if you are a pedestrian "" because those bad drivers still have an effect on your mobility.

We might debate about the having an effect on the overall outcome of an election if one votes versus having an effect on the overall driving conditions in our area if one drives, but that could be countered with the charge that one vote does not make any more difference in an election than one driver on a crowded highway. It takes many drivers working together for one cause to change those driving conditions, just as it takes many voters casting their votes for one choice.

But to go any further into that would be a distraction from my main point anyway, so we'll leave it for another day. Recently, David Letterman made a joke about Sarah Palin's daughter that was not only poorly constructed and poorly conceived, but not in the best of taste. Being insulting has never really been an issue with Letterman and, in fact, is at least one of the foundational blocks upon which his fame and notoriety is built. When he first came on the air and my friends insisted I "had" to watch him, I gave him a try, but found him rude and, using the term I most often use to describe him, "a jerk." I felt he sought out ways to be discourteous and to embarrass his guests, and I did not appreciate his efforts.

Over the many years he has been on the air, I have tempered my criticism of him to some extent. After all, people who agree to go on his show know exactly what they are in for and, I think, in most cases, Letterman himself has toned down a lot of his rudeness in favor of a blunt form of honesty. I have respect for that sort of honesty and, though I am still not a fan, I respect Letterman, which is why his current blunder is a disappointment to me.

But of more aggravation to me is the Palinites calling for his dismissal. I can readily imagine that there is still some rash irritating the McCain/Palin camp for the thrashing they took in the election, and I can imagine that, with both of them more or less out of the public eye on a daily basis, it must be a sort of withdrawal to them, causing noticeable convulsions and tremors. So, of course, they will snatch at any reason to thrust their idols "" not to mention themselves "" back into the thick of the sociopolitical conversation, thereby hoping to shout down any opposing views in lieu of actually being able to defeat them.

But, just as with the pro-choice/pro-life debate, there is an element that they do not recognize and which, in my opinion, fear anyone else recognizing. When asked by pro-lifers why I would ever support the murder that is abortion, I tell them that I do not support abortion "" in fact, I feel that it is something that need to be very seriously considered on many levels and I am not certain, having never been in that situation, that I am capable or qualified to do so. However, that does not mean that I have the right to decide that for someone else, and, so, I am in favor of choice because having the right to choose means that one can choose not to have an abortion just as it means they may choose in favor of it. In other words, I do not feel the responsibility, nor have the right, to make such a decision for another, just as I would not have them make such a decision for me.

It's called Freedom.

And, let's face it, Letterman and his style originated and has been maintained as a gritty alternative to the "how nice you look tonight," grip-n-grin talk shows that are thinly disguised promotions for some used-to-be important person. The controversy, on a far more gentile and civilized level than, say, Bill O'Reilly or Howard Stern, is still part of the show and the reason many people watch. The network is reveling in this publicity and is not going to cut off the hand that feeds it.

Now, I am not one to think that all those who voted for the arch-conservative perspective are illiterate, unthinking bumpkins who follow sheep-like behind Rush Limbaugh or think that Sarah Palin is the second coming of the Virgin Mary. I have known, personally and professionally, far too many very intelligent and very wise people who just happen to think in High Conservative values.

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For 12 years, as a professional journalist, I covered education, environmental legislation, criminal courts, and politics. Throughout my career, I described myself as from the "Dragnet School of journalism -- Just the facts, ma'am, just the (more...)
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