I’ve been getting more than my fair share of shade these past few days, for pointing out the absurd double-standard that’s being applied to Phil Robertson, CEO of Louisiana hunting-gear firm Duck Commander, and the star of A&E’s biggest reality TV show, Duck Dynasty, over the rabidly homophobic, racist remarks he made during an interview with GQ Magazine.
Basically in them, Robertson conflated gays with those who rape animals, and suggested that black people were better off under Jim Crow. When A&E moved to protect its brand–albeit belatedly, because Robertson has a long history of making such inflammatory rants–and suspended the duck-hunting patriarch from the show, conservatives cried foul, claiming Robertson’s First amendment rights to free speech were being grievously infringed upon. No less a personage than former Governor of Alaska (and Vice-Presidential candidate) Sarah Palin joined the chorus if those on the right condemning the network for its decision.
That Palin is publicly defending Robertson and his hate speech is noteworthy, because she was, herself, the target of criticism earlier this year, from former MSNBC host Martin Bashir. To be sure, Bashir said some pretty horrible things–calling for someone to defecate in Palin’s mouth–but he paid the price for his comments, being forced to resign earlier this month by MSNBC’s president. Yet, no one on the right=hand side of the aisle offered an atom or a tittle of sympathy, much less outrage, over MSNBC’s trampling of Bashir’s right to speak freely. Palin herself encouraged Bashir’s ouster, yet here she is just a couple of weeks later, Tweeting that “free speech is an endangered species. Those ‘intolerants’ hatin’ and taking on Duck Dynasty patriarch.” Well, the moose-hunting ex-governor need to get a refresher course in Constitutional law: Nowhere in the First Amendment does it say that people are immune from the consequences of their free speech. That’s why Bashir found himself knocked off the air. That’s why Robertson got his days in the street.
Yet, it’s a distinction that seems to escape many. Sauce for the duck (dynasty) is sauce for the gander, the other bird in this case being the unfortunate Bashir. The Robertson family has now inserted themselves into the debate, reportedly threatening to walk away from their program entirely, if their patriarch is not forthwith restored to good standing. They, too, cite their father’s First Amendment rights as grounds for their protest. But was not Bashir’s speech, however disgusting, also just as free, and just as protected, as Robertson’s? Apparently not, to hear conservatives like Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and Rep. Ted Cruz tell it. “Politically correct liberals,” Jindal said, “believe in free speech, except for views they disagree with”, and Cruz decried the “assault on free speech” made by A&E. Yet these two Republicans, and scores of other right-wingers were deafeningly silent on Bashir, unless they were loudly calling for the man’s head.
So whither the quackery surrounding Robertson, and the further claim that A&E is repressing his religious freedom (Robertson cited Scripture as the basis for his views on gays and blacks)? The Church doesn’t get to make the laws in the United States, and, in fact, freedom from religion is one of the guarantees enshrined in the Bill Of Rights. I certainly understand the need for an unfettered spiritual voice in our society, but when the voice attributed to God, by whatever name people call Him, degenerates into a justification for bigotry and homophobia, then those same Constitutional precepts give me the freedom, and duty, to speak out in reply. Our democratic principles are often a two-way street, and as apportioned in this case, the right still insists on the exclusive privilege of holding up a big “STOP” sign when someone like Robertson is called to account for his words.
I don’t like what Robertson had to say. His words are harmful to the safety of gays and blacks everywhere, lest his celebrity status encourages someone out there to turn words into an assault. But as protected free speech, I will defend his right to say his piece–and face the consequences thereof. It’s the other side of the political landscape that fails to make the connection between Robertson and Bashir, and why they are BOTH actually on the same side of this issue. I’ll just be sitting here, meanwhile, watching my Inbox explode…