Friday, January 05, 2007

Giving Free Speech A Bad Name

[Posted by reader_iam]
"If your parents had been incinerated in Auschwitz or Treblinka, you wouldn't be around to abuse the homeless. How do you like that?"
--Al Hessen, concerned Las Vegas citizen [my description]

Mayor Oscar Goodman of Las Vegas was wrong when he cut off a man speaking during the public comment section of a public City Council. He was wrong to cut off the man's microphone and wrong to ask a city marshal to make the man sit down when he insisted on to criticizing the mayor for a public apearance with "bimbos." It's a public meeting; it's the public comment section; citizens do have First Amendment rights, and those include criticizing--even in offensive ways--officials and even people who appear with them, for whatever reason. The mayor was wrong, and he should have known better. In fact, he had, and has, an affirmative duty to know that, at least in my view. (Please note: Goodman's actions were not in response to the anti-semitic questions; the situation, as reported, was opposite.)

But it's pretty nauseating to have to defend a Hessen, or any individual who would hurl--who would even think to hurl--the absolutely vile words that I quoted at the start of this post. What the hell is going on that anyone would be even tempted to say such a thing, that anyone would think it's OK to spew forth such an obscenity, that anyone would feel that comfortable and safe {[added for clarity:] within his self-concept, his personal standards, and his personal social mileu}? I was relieved to hear the groans, gasps and outcries of disapproval in the video clip I saw of the incident. But I had to wonder: In what circles had Hessen been hanging, that he felt so confident and justified in spitting out his bile for all to hear and see? With pride at his vindictiveness--"How do you like that?--no less?

As I've written before, I'm "probably most libertarian, perhaps even radical, in the area of unfettered free-speech rights" in the public square. That doesn't mean I don't regularly gag over the way in which those rights are exercised, and even cheapened.


(Here's another write-up of the incident. Is it just me, or does that lead have just a bit too much levity about it?)