At the outset, let me make something clear. I’ve never heard a statement from Ann Coulter, Sarah Palin, or John Yoo that I didn’t think was the planet’s biggest bucket of elephant slop. But at the convergence of this Triumvirate of Twits is an example of how our nation is close to the tipping point between deadly expression and free expression.
Ann Coulter is the doyen of the teabagger set and the most outrageous of the three. Her diatribes are an uninterrupted string of vitriol and hate specifically designed to provoke. It’s a winning situation too. She can turn out books like the Keebler elves turn out cookies and clean up.
Recently, protesters turned up to prevent her from speaking at the University of Ottawa. That should be no surprise. Mixed in amongst her usual racist, homophobic, liberal paranoia she took time to call out the entire nation of Canada a few years back. Canada has “become trouble,” in her words. “They better hope the United States doesn’t roll over one night and crush them. They’re lucky they’re allowed to be on the same continent as the United States.”
Canada?! I mean, WTF.
To the Left of Atilla the Hun Divorce Lawyer
On the other hand, Jon Yoo is professorial in comparison. He’s generally quiet, but defends actions and interprets laws in maddening ways that baffle any lawyer to the left of Attila the Hun’s divorce attorney. But, his mild-mannered appearance didn’t stop hecklers from shouting during a speech at the University of Virginia. He finished the speech, but not before several people we’re fired up enough to be carried away by the local constabulary.
These three are cardboard cutouts of real people. I’m confident Coulter would “hate” anyone she could make a buck from – hate being an emotion far outside her grapes to raisins repertoire.
Yoo is a mere lackey who follows orders without much thought or emotion. “John, I need a legal reason to invade Canada because Annie hates the place,” Dick Cheney might have asked. “Yessir Mr. Vice Emperor. I’ll have it by Tuesday.”
Sarah is a bubblehead. I’m sure she doesn’t mean for people to actually take guns and shoot people because that would mean fewer people on the street to pay attention to her preening – regardless of whether the attention is good or bad.
I’m a fervent believer in the First Amendment. I believe everyone – even the asshats, crapweasels, and miscreant among us – has the right to say what they want, even if I think it’s a load of hogswallop. In fact, precisely BECAUSE they have an unpopular message. The measure of a democracy is how it treats it least desirable citizens. To do less would be to invite the fringe to take become the majority.
‘Reload’ and Hand Out the Ammo
However, unrestricted freedom of expression assumes the speaker has some modicum of self-control – for example, not saying “reload” and then handing out the bullets. It assumes messages will stay generic enough to avoid overly inciting the daft to unwanted shenanigans.
I don’t think you could make an argument that any of these people’s statements is specific in of itself, but you could make a valid argument they amp up the vitriol to the point where the violently-inclined begin to think it’s safe to act out the throwaway lines off unthinking, self-aggrandizing blowhards. But, where is the line? Which statement is the tipping point between absurdist trifle and calls to action received via tin-foil hat?
I’ve still not given up on unrestricted free speech. It’s too important. However, I know that unless people try to dampen their, um, “enthusiasm”, the protests of the 60s and 70s will look like a gaggle of stoners too high to do anything other than stick daisies in gun barrels. There will be real violence, destruction, and death.
It’s a times like these that freedom becomes more than a 200-year old theory and it’s a damn shame everyone can’t be at least a little responsible for their actions.