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If I'm an "Idiot," do I still have free speech rights?

By       Message William R Castlelich       (Page 1 of 2 pages)     Permalink

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I woke up this morning, the day after having given thanks for what I consider the greatest experiment in self-governance the earth has ever seen, and did what I usually do: started perusing the internet. Mostly I sort of stumble around to various local news sites and pick up tidbits of information about different things. I'm not sure this accomplishes anything, but I do sometimes stumble across something mildly interesting, slightly distressing or monumentally stupid.

There's a site I frequent for contrary opinion where a paper in an area I'm familiar with is published. The Lubbock Avalanche Journal (Texas) has been a staple in this bastion of conservatism for as long as probably anyone there remembers. It's not a bad paper as long as you don't mind the occasional misspelling, the rare article that just sort of ends in mid-sentence, the rather poorly researched articles and don't mind an obvious and often obnoxious conservative and overpowering religious slant. Essentially, with the exception of the obvious slant, it's like most newspapers most anywhere.

I flipped to the editorials as I'm about as interested in what's on people's minds as I am in what's actually going on. I like, even those who disagree, the opinions of my fellow Americans. This morning there were only two editorials that I saw. The one I opened was from a woman whose child serves in our military. She began by calling another writer an "idiot" or a "Muslim who had changed his name" and more or less ended by thanking all the military for protecting our freedom of speech.


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In the middle she condemned, criticized and chastised President Obama for being racist, for leading our country into monumental debt, for...about the only thing missing from her discussion was his Somali/Kenyan/Russian/wherever birth certificate.

I was curious about the allusion to the "idiot" "Muslim who had changed his name" writer so with some effort I found his editorial. In his editorial he made what I considered to be a rather odd argument of sparing Major Nidal Malik Hasan, the "alleged" shooter at Fort Hood. As best I could tell the reason the author had for not pursuing the death penalty with Hasan was so we could learn from him about his religion and the reasons behind his homicidal rampage.

Not being a proponent of the death penalty I find justification for keeping people like McVeigh, the Beltway Sniper and Hasan alive difficult, but not being a proponent of the death penalty marks me as one of those folks who says "lock 'em up, throw away the key, but don't kill them," so right or wrong, stupid or mega-intelligent, that's my opinion.

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I don't know that I would keep them alive to "learn" from them. I learned from my grandparents, parents, friends and my community that if you disagree with someone you don't kill them. I'm not sure I can understand the ranting of an obvious madman and I'm not sure I want to.

The lady who wrote the editorial about the "idiot" "Muslim who changed his name" thought Hasan should face the firing squad with bad marksmen. My immediate thought was "okay, so if we just sort of wing him a few times and make him suffer as much as possible before killing him we are approaching a level of barbarism that we haven't outgrown, but we should have and wouldn't this 'winging for torture' take really good marksmen rather than really bad?" I didn't know, but I would think really bad marksmen might simply miss and what would that accomplish? "He sure is scared now! What if we hit him next time?"

But most of the preceding isn't even the point. What is most fascinating to me whether I'm struggling to listen to something a "rightwing" radio talk show host is saying, or whether I'm attempting to understand the disconnected logic of an editorial, is the incredibly hypocritical paradigm with which these folks view our world.

And I put "rightwing" in quotes because I have good friends who are conservative and good friends who say they're "rightwing" and we often sit down and have wonderfully exciting and semi-intellectual conversations about everything from the space program to our economy to our many military excursions into wherever for whatever purported reasons and we don't end up screaming at one another, or threatening one another or calling one another idiots and other names. We have a spirited conversation and exchange of ideas and contrary opinions.

We do this because we honor, respect and will defend with our lives Americans right to free speech. And, although we don't have to agree with one another, we have to have something that approaches civilized discourse and we have to agree with the basic tenets of our representative democracy.

So, although I don't necessarily agree with the person who says "let's learn from the homicidal maniacs and keep them alive like we might lab rats" I will respect his or her opinion and his or her free speech right by saying "I do not agree."

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I won't call him an "idiot." And I won't suggest he is a "Muslim who changed his name." To do this does not promote discourse or support the belief in free speech; it does the exact opposite.

I didn't believe in our rather ridiculous excursion into Iraq and still don't. And I was told by our leader that we were going into Afghanistan seeking one person "Dead or alive" and that's the reason I was semi-okay with sending people like the letter writer's child into harm's way because unlike the Gulf of Tonkin I actually thought maybe my government wasn't selling me a big pile of rubbish. Of course now I know they were...again, but I was hopeful they were not.

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A writer for over 30 years and political satirist. Of course without a single published piece of merit, which makes me your average American blogger.

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