The Corner

Mr. President, Please Clarify the Rules

The evolving rules governing acceptable public discourse require serious explanation.

Earlier this year, during the memorial services for the victims of the Arizona shooter’s rampage, the president admonished that political debate needed to become more civil and should be conducted in a way that “heals” rather than “blames.” Of course, since then the president has been blaming everything and everyone (but mainly Republicans) for the country’s current predicament.

Two days ago, CNSNews unearthed a video that captured a July 3, 2008 campaign speech by then-candidate Obama. In it, he said:

The problem is, is that the way Bush has done it over the last eight years is to take out a credit card from the Bank of China in the name of our children, driving up our national debt from 5 trillion for the first 42 presidents–number 43 added 4 trillion dollars by his lonesome, so that we now have a 9 trillion dollar debt that we are going to have to pay back–$30,000 for every man, woman, and child. That’s irresponsible. That’s unpatriotic.

Liberals are free to throw around the word “unpatriotic” with near impunity: Witness the fact that the Democratic nominee for president could call the sitting president “unpatriotic” and it didn’t even register as a fleeting blip on the media’s radar screen; whereas Rick Perry’s comments about a sitting Fed Chairman provoked several days of media indignation and a reprimand from President Obama. The civil discourse rules seem to apply almost exclusively to conservatives.

Mark Steyn has a piece in the current issue of National Review examining how, in much of the West, the right of free speech is becoming a function of the speaker’s identity and membership in a particular class — a kind of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Grievants. Blacks can say things whites cannot, Muslims can say things Catholics cannot, etc. The greater the perceived victimhood status of the speaker, the more latitude he gets.

Of course, victimhood status isn’t static. It shifts with time and political imperatives. What’s permissible for a Hispanic Rastafarian female to say today may be trumped by the sensibilities of an Asian Mennonite male tomorrow.

Accordingly, some clear, bright-line parameters would be helpful. And given that President Obama has already anointed himself the general arbiter by demonstrating that he can call a president unpatriotic without repercussion yet chastise Governor Perry for infelicitous remarks about Ben Bernanke, he should be the one to provide more definitive standards for what constitutes permissible political speech. For example, the following needs explanation:

Is it merely irresponsible to say American troops are just “air-raiding villages and killing civilians,” or is it unpatriotic?

Is it unpatriotic to compare U.S. troops in Guantanamo with Nazis and Pol Pot, or is it irresponsible?

Is it irresponsible to call Tea Party members terrorists, or is it unpatriotic?

Is it unpatriotic to spend $814 billion on non-existent “shovel-ready” jobs, or is it irresponsible?

Is it irresponsible to smuggle thousands of weapons to Mexican drug cartels, or is it simply galactically stupid?

We, the great unwashed, anxiously await guidance.

Peter Kirsanow — Peter N. Kirsanow is an attorney and a member of the United States Commission on Civil Rights.

Most Popular

Politics & Policy

Students’ Anti-Gun Views

Are children innocents or are they leaders? Are teenagers fully autonomous decision-makers, or are they lumps of mental clay, still being molded by unfolding brain development? The Left seems to have a particularly hard time deciding these days. Take, for example, the high-school students from Parkland, ... Read More
PC Culture

Kill Chic

We live in a society in which gratuitous violence is the trademark of video games, movies, and popular music. Kill this, shoot that in repugnant detail becomes a race to the visual and spoken bottom. We have gone from Sam Peckinpah’s realistic portrayal of violent death to a gory ritual of metal ripping ... Read More
Elections

Romney Is a Misfit for America

Mitt’s back. The former governor of Massachusetts and occasional native son of Michigan has a new persona: Mr. Utah. He’s going to bring Utah conservatism to the whole Republican party and to the country at large. Wholesome, efficient, industrious, faithful. “Utah has a lot to teach the politicians in ... Read More
Law & the Courts

What the Second Amendment Means Today

The horrifying school massacre in Parkland, Fla., has prompted another national debate about guns. Unfortunately, it seems that these conversations are never terribly constructive — they are too often dominated by screeching extremists on both sides of the aisle and armchair pundits who offer sweeping opinions ... Read More
U.S.

Fire the FBI Chief

American government is supposed to look and sound like George Washington. What it actually looks and sounds like is Henry Hill from Goodfellas: bad suit, hand out, intoning the eternal mantra: “F*** you, pay me.” American government mostly works by interposition, standing between us, the free people at ... Read More
Film & TV

Black Panther’s Circle of Hype

The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) first infantilizes its audience, then banalizes it, and, finally, controls it through marketing. This commercial strategy, geared toward adolescents of all ages, resembles the Democratic party’s political manipulation of black Americans, targeting that audience through its ... Read More