Thursday, December 19, 2013

Weighing In On the Phil Robertson Flap



MANY YEARS AGO,  I had a near religious 'conversion' experience around the meaning of the FIRST AMENDMENT.  Until then, I just thought I knew what it all meant.  I began to see the light soon after I became a neophyte newspaper reporter for a big morning daily---and started getting knocked around by my editors on one side and the reading public on the other.

My editors, big First Amendment  guys---in the John Kennedy sense---- were mostly old-time liberal Democrats who were determined to instill in me and all of us a triple dose of what the First Amendment means to America and the freedoms we so often take for granted.  (Years later,  the publisher of my newspaper, one of my personal 1st Amendment mentors, became the first head of the First Amendment Center established by Gannett and the late Al Neuharth right here in Nashville, Tennessee---and you thought Nashville was only about country music.)

In retrospect,  I look back on this difficult learning experience with a great deal of gratitude and humility, in spite of my sometimes tears and trepidation.

It was then and there that I learned in no uncertain terms that the First Amendment means that everyone has a inalienable right to speak their minds---however wise or seemingly crude or depraved--- and to contribute to the marketplace of ideas. (That of course comes with rare exceptions, including an imminent threat to kill oneself or someone else.) 

More importantly,  I learned that embracing the First Amendment also means that in a free country each of us will be offended early and often. Let me say that again:  the 1st means, we all will be offended at some point and usually at many points.  If we're not offended, then we're not breathing or don't have a pulse.

I personally am offended everyday when I visit each and every of my favorite sites.  I wonder,  what is it that Kim Kardashian has to offer in another string bikini expose?  I think, how so many of our low-life icons are dumbing down the global conversation on every front?

But the good news for all of us is that poor taste is covered under the First.

I also was taught in the city room that most people give only tacit support to the 1st, as long as they mostly agree with what's said,  and  are cruising with people, places and ideas within their comfort zone.  Unfortunately, when most people hear a horrifying message, they want to banish the message AND the messenger.   It's off with their heads!  It's human nature.  But, it's not what the 1st Amendment is about.

In spite of all this learning, the most important thing I learned about the 1st is that in a responsible (adult) society, each individual self-censors what he hears, reads, sees.  This is an important leap from  government censoring in communist/socialist countries and it presumes an adult society where individuals accept the freedom of expression along with the responsibility of self-censorship. That means if we don't like what we read, hear or see, we  turn off the TV,  turn the page,  refuse to support the sponsor and click to another site.  We can also start a blog, write a book, make a comment, write a letter to the editors or make a FACEBOOK rant.

The marketplace of ideas has gotten bigger, louder and much more open, even as our society is regressing and wanting daddy government to do everything for them/us.

Fast forward  several decades to the end of 2013.  Enter the incredibly immature, crass Miley Cyrus. And the crude Phil Robertson, my brother in Christ. On both ends of the spectrum---either way, both offer offense, and an opportunity for adults of all persuasions to self-censor or cry to daddy government to censor freedom of speech.

So what do I think of the Phil Robertson flap?

First: I think Phil expressed himself honestly but in an extremely crude, tasteless and counter-productive way, even for a duck guy.  If he's trying to win souls to Christ,  as he says he is,  he's being ineffective.  I'm embarrassed by both his style and substance.o  However,  Phil is totally within his First Amendment rights both in what he said and the way he said it.  As a listener or reader my recourse----if I disagree--- is to walk away,  turn off the computer or TV or to write a comment or rant wherever I like.  In other words,  to self-censor.  Again, the First Amendment covers red necks and poor taste.

Second,  I understand the gay radicals righteous indignation over Robertson's remarks.  However,  I think it's unrealistic  and  reverse bigotry to think the PC Police can scream loud enough to subdue each and every opposing opinion and into its radical agenda.  It's never going to happen. Of all the regressed parts of society,  I think the radical gay left is the most immature and unrealistic when it comes to the First Amendment. It's won many battles, like gay civil unions and more.  However,  it doesn't want to stop there as it demands total acceptance while refusing to give one iota up  to opposing views in the marketplace of ideas, especially traditional and biblical worldviews.  In spite of the political victories, its total search-and-destroy mission  will never work.  Its in-our-faces attitude is just as offensive as  Robertson's poor taste.

Finally, the A&E  channel:  OK,  it has a right to knee-jerk fire Phil Robertson for the sake of political correctness.  But what does that accomplish?   Camille Paglia says it's Utterly Facist, Utterly Stalinist and I agree.  Not much except a sense of self-righteous indignation, a lost successful cable show and a lost opportunity to further a mature conversation instead of the immature decision of cut-off.   Its action also adds to Phil Robertson's good ole boy mystique and popularity.  Still A & E's politically correct censorship is its right also even if it cuts off its nose to spite its face.

In the end,  Phil Robertson and family will stand together and go on in new directions and probably get stronger as he preaches to his  loyal band of followers. The radical left will carry on too and probably be as strident as ever as it appeals to its radical followers.   For now,  the gaps of co-existence seem to be getting wider and more tense, in our fallen world even as Matt Drudge gets ten million more hits a day from headlining this fray.

What needs to remain strong and firm in all this is the First Amendment---our freedom of self-expression as well as our responsibility to self-censor, not asking the government to do it for us, or to try to totally wipe out the opposition.  We cannot let the PC police take over our free country with intimidation upon intimidation.

Again, the First Amendment assures that we'll be offended early and often and if we want to keep a free country, we'd better get used to it, no matter what our political, religious and cultural point of view.

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