Remember when Sarah Palin ran for vice president and even though she was given multiple chances she couldn’t describe the constitutional role of the vice president? That was awesome. You might also remember when Palin said the Constitution states that “our unalienable rights don’t come from man; they come from God. So this document is set up to protect us from a government that would ever infringe upon our rights to have freedom of religion and to be able to express our faith freely.” Yeah, that thing about “unalienable rights” comes from the Declaration of Independence, not the Constitution. Oops.
In addition to basic sentence structure and all numbers above seven, Palin doesn’t really get the Constitution, which has clearly never prevented her from pretending she’s, you know, read the most important section of the document. Here’s Palin discussing the free speech clause of the First Amendment:
Palin on Phil Robertson:
“Free speech is an endangered species. Those “intolerants” hatin’ and taking on the Duck Dynasty patriarch for voicing his personal opinion are taking on all of us.”
Palin on Miss USA contestant Carrie Prejean:
“I respect Carrie for standing strong and staying true to herself, and for not letting those who disagree with her deny her protection under the nation’s First Amendment Rights. Our Constitution protects us all — not just those who agree with the far left.”
Palin on Dr. Laura:
“Dr. Laura: don’t retreat…reload! (Steps aside bc her 1st Amend.rights ceased 2exist thx 2activists trying 2silence’isn’t American,not fair’)”
Palin on Rush Limbaugh’s Sandra Fluke comments:
“I think the definition of hypocrisy is for Rush Limbaugh to have been called out, forced to apologize, and retract what it is that he said in exercising his First Amendment rights, and never is that — the same applied to the leftist radicals who say such horrible things about the handicapped, about women, about the defenseless.”
Palin on the Chick-Fil-A boycott:
“Well, that calling for the boycott is a real — has a chilling effect on our 1st Amendment rights. And the owner of the Chick-Fil-A business had merely voiced his personal opinion about supporting traditional definition of marriage, one boy, one girl, falling in love, getting married…I’m speaking up for him and his 1st Amendment rights and anybody else who would wish to express their not anti-gay people sentiment, but their support of traditional marriage.”
Despite Palin’s cartoonishly ridiculous interpretation, the First Amendment doesn’t protect Limbaugh or Phil Robertson from their corporate bosses, angry listeners or popular boycotts — it protects them from federal laws restricting free speech and press. An example of a federal law that would infringe upon free speech and press would be a copyright law that forbids journalists from excerpting and criticizing Sarah Palin’s videos. Indeed, Palin tried to have several videos critical of her nincompoopery removed from my YouTube account because she believed they violated copyright laws (they didn’t). So much for my “1st Amend.rights.”
None of this is all that surprising. She’s a white-trash doofus. But hearing nearly the exact same misinterpretation of the First Amendment from an otherwise smart man like Bill Maher was more than a little bizarre. On Friday’s Real Time with Bill Maher, Maher covered similar territory in his New Rules segment, coincidentally folding Rush Limbaugh into the mix.
This may surprise you but I am not a big fan of Rush Limbaugh. However, if you’re one of the people with a website devoted to making him go away, you are part of the problem. And ironically, you’re not even a proper liberal because you don’t get free speech. You’re just a baby who can’t stand to live a world where you hear things that upset you. Oh, you’re not alone. In much of Europe, denying the Holocaust is a crime. It shouldn’t be.
New rule: whether you’re Sarah Palin or Bill Maher, if you’re going to speak on television about the Constitution, please read it first. It’s clearly ironic that Maher insisted “baby” liberals who are boycotting and petitioning Limbaugh’s sponsors “don’t get free speech,” given his very obvious flummoxing of the First Amendment.
First, and to repeat, the speech clause merely disallows congressional laws regulating what we can and can’t say. Secondly, Limbaugh has made a fortune using the publicly-owned airwaves to exercise his right to criticize the government, no matter how hate-filled and wrong those criticisms have been. The government hasn’t, nor should it, sanction the Limbaugh show for things he’s said, and I would stand by this idea, even if he slipped and blurted out one of the so-called “seven deadly words,” which is technically a violation of FCC rules but which shouldn’t be seriously enforced.
That said, there’s absolutely nothing unconstitutional about speaking out against or protesting Rush Limbaugh. Contrary to Maher and Palin, doing so is just as much an exercise in free speech as Limbaugh referring to the president as a “little black man-child.” Limbaugh’s serial misinformation efforts and daily hate-speech deserves to be held accountable, whether it occurs in a column for The Daily Banter that enumerates all the ways he’s wrong, or if it involves signing a petition asking Snapple to pull its sponsorship of the show. I can’t speak for the website Maher referred to, and I don’t really know which website it is, but I’d wager that the movement to apparently get Limbaugh fired (it’ll never happen) has little to do with simply disagreeing with what he said and more to do with his lies and bigotry. It’s not about silencing someone with whom they disagree, it’s about holding a public figure accountable for misinforming the public about serious topics.
By the way, Limbaugh isn’t Charlie Hebdo. Limbaugh isn’t Bill Maher, either. Limbaugh isn’t (intentionally) a satirical comedian, and his opponents aren’t misunderstanding what he says, as what often occurs with satire and comedy. There’s no Andy Kaufman under the rubbery Limbaugh mask. He comports himself as a serious delivery mechanism for news and opinion, at one point crowning himself the de facto head of the GOP. And whether it’s a corporation making a provably false claim about a product or a radio announcer making a false claim about the news, we as citizens and consumers are free if not obligated to hold those entities accountable, even if it leads to the rare consequence of bankruptcy for the corporation or, gasp!, the firing of a big fat idiot. I refuse to believe that Maher would support Monsanto’s “free speech” rights if it made false claims about its pesticides.
Like it or not, this is quite simply the free market doing what it’s supposed to do. If we don’t like a product, we’re within our rights to refuse to buy it while recommending to our friends that they shouldn’t buy it either. Funny how a self-proclaimed free market capitalist like Sarah Palin doesn’t appear to support the free market.
Ultimately, Maher’s segment wasn’t as much about Limbaugh as it was about Maher himself and the controversy surrounding his remarks about Islam. For what it’s worth, I absolutely agreed with the section of his monologue when he called out the hypocrisy of certain liberals who boasted “Je Suis Charlie” last week, while protesting Maher’s own views on Islam. And even though I’m ambivalent about what Maher said to Ben Affleck about Islam, it’s important to distinguish that Maher, unlike Limbaugh, is a comedian and no matter how serious he can occasionally appear, everything he says needs to be viewed through the prism of comedy, and I’ve always believed that comedians deserve far greater latitude than newscasters or political commentators.
However, I also don’t have a lot of patience for anyone who deliberately markets in controversial ideas, then is suddenly shocked when those ideas stir up controversy. It’s like being alarmed when your car slams into oncoming traffic because you decided, screw it, no one’s telling me which lane to drive in. If you choose to offend people for the sake of comedy or whatever else, don’t be such a whiny diaper baby and just own it. And please, resist the urge to erroneously hide behind the First Amendment when people are offended. Actions and reactions are a form of dialogue: say something in public, and the public responds. The real trouble arises when the government responds by trying to restrict controversial speech. And that’s when invoking the speech clause is necessary. Not when TV viewers decide not to watch Phil Robertson’s fake duck show or not to support Rush Limbaugh’s sponsors. Sorry. Public figures are entitled to a lot, but they’re not entitled to constitutional protection in the face of the marketplace from which they derive their inflated paychecks, or from the outrage some of them like to incite.