As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Friday, September 28, 2007

Ritual Rending Of Garments

I wish the Congress would stop being offended by words and start being offended by actions, like the egregious actions taken to sell and perpetuate a catastrophic war. I understand what Trapper John is saying here, but really, they call it free speech because it's free:

But from my perspective, the point of this resolution isn't to receive a majority vote, or even really to condemn Limbaugh. After all, a great number of us in the Democratic Party don't believe that the United States Congress should be in the business of "condemning" the speech of American citizens. As I see it, the point of this exercise is: 1) to highlight the hypocrisy of those Republicans who would vote to condemn the speech of MoveOn, but not that of America's Favorite Chickenhawk -- even as he smeared rank-and-file service members -- and 2) to make sure that those Democrats who saw fit to publicly condemn their ally on the floor of Congress are willing to do the same to a man who despises them and the Democratic Party.

All well and good. I believe in highlighting the hypocrisy and making that point. But doing so through yet another resolution of condemnation is not only a time-waster, it betrays (there's that word again the values of America.

This brings me to the flap over's recent ad about "General Betray Us." The ad suggested that General Petraeus was "cooking the books for the White House" by presenting to the American public and to the Congress a misleading picture of the situation in Iraq. There is absolutely no question but that this statement was fully protected by the First Amendment. As the Supreme Court has often and clearly explained, the First Amendment embodies "a profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open, and that it may well include vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials." The ad is well within the bounds of this fundamental constitutional protection and well within the long tradition in this nation of challenging our public officials -- military as well as civilian [...]

Just as it is not the business of Columbia University to declare some views "right" and other views "wrong," it is not the business of the United States Senate to enact resolutions condemning the constitutionally protected expression of private citizens. To be sure, many of us sometimes find the constitutionally protected expression of others offensive. Some of us may despise speech that espouses racial inferiority; some of us may find odious speech calling abortion murder; some of us may dislike the views of presidential candidates on the issue of gay marriage; and some of us may be offended by claims that torture is sometimes moral. In this nation, we are all free as individuals to "condemn" the views with which we disagree, and individual senators, acting in their individual capacities, are similarly free to declare their distaste for certain expression.

But it is not a legitimate role for the Senate of the United States to pass formal resolutions condemning the expression of constitutionally protected views. Do the supporters of this resolution honestly believe that it would be appropriate for the Senate officially to condemn those who question the integrity of Vice President Cheney, or the wisdom of Justice Scalia, or the candor of President Bush? Do they honestly believe that it would be appropriate for the Senate officially to condemn those who support campaign finance reform or greater gun regulation or an invasion of Iran?

Such expression, like's attack on General Petraeus, is not only protected by the First Amendment, but is essential to the functioning of a self-governing society. For the very same reasons that Columbia University should not declare particular ideas, perspectives, or positions "out of bounds," so too, the United States Senate should foster "uninhibited, robust, and wide-open" public debate and not attempt to intimidate citizens by irresponsible public declarations of official condemnation. Such a tactic smacks of the excesses of the McCarthy Era.

Absolutely, and McCarthyism is McCarthyism no matter who's holding the gavel.

UPDATE: It should be noted that Mark Udall is introducing this resolution. He's also running for Senate next year in Colorado and could use rank-and-file support. You see where I'm going with this.

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