The Redskins, Tolerance, Etc.

by Ramesh Ponnuru

My column on the Redskins, George Will, tolerance, and charity has produced a few reader responses I wanted to mention.

Two lines of argument suggest that I was too hard on the U.S. Patent Office. First, one correspondent wrote, the office did not ban the use of the name, it just deprived the organization of “monopoly rents from it.” Whether that’s a fair characterization of the intellectual property rights at issue I will leave to one side. The fact remains that the organization is being denied those rights/rents, while almost all other organizations can keep theirs, because the office sides with those who disapprove of the name. For the government to act in this way seems to me intolerant and dangerous.

A second line of criticism is that the law commands the office to act as it did. Maybe it does; I’ll leave it to folks like Jonathan Turley to sort that out. But my criticism wasn’t that the office had exceeded its legal mandate. It was that the office should not be in the business of deciding that a team name is too offensive to be trademarked. If it was following the law, then the law should be changed. The result should not be celebrated, and further government action against the Redskins should not be egged on. That’s what I criticized the Washington Post for doing.

Another e-mailer says that I am a “hypocrite” (to quote one) because I focused on examples of liberal intolerance and do not mention the “blacklisting” of the Dixie Chicks a decade ago. I plead guilty to using recent examples, and to not remembering the particulars of the Dixie Chicks controversy. I explicitly noted that conservatives sometimes act intolerantly, and I criticized two instances in which some conservatives took positions I considered wrongheaded, while at the same time stating my view that these days liberals are more prone to intolerance. I don’t think more can reasonably be asked of one column.

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