The First Amendment of the Constitution guarantees the freedom of speech. In gentlemanly circles this freedom is held as beginning with one’s person and ending where another person’s nose begins. Over the decades it has devolved into a mudslinging contest that has lawyers and the court system as referees, while the former busily peddle their wares to the highest bidders.
The idea of free speech is indeed noble and much needed when considering the fact that America was founded on the idea that we are no longer to be subjects of a King who would control the words uttered in private and public upon the pain of imprisonment, torture, and death. The Founding Fathers made it clear that the very act of criticizing the government is akin to sacred utterances and the only basis on which to base a republic that revels in its freedoms.
While the United States looks with abject scorn on the Star Chamber and the very notion that an elected official should be above criticisms by those who voted for or against him or her, this very idea of nobility has been dragged through the mud as of late. The very much criticized Administration of George Bush the younger has given rise to public outcries in such a manner that it defies comparison.
What is interesting to note from the point of view of a civil rights advocate is the fact that hate speech – which is loosely defined as the attempt to insult but also intimidate members of a group, such as political groups – which was thus far considered as not being a desirable expression of the freedom of speech has suddenly entered the mainstream. Pretending to be openly critical of the government and its elected officials, the airwaves, newspapers, and television shows are now filled with the anger, hatred, and vitriol of haters who pander to the fringe elements.
Columnist and author Ann Coulter is a dedicated carrier of the water for the Republican Party. At times her statements are borderline ridiculous, such as when she pontificated that women should stay away from voting since they seem to throw their hats in the rings for the democrats, while more recently she stirred up the hackles of the right as well as the left by referring to John Edwards - democratic contender John Edwards who has his own problems with his hired religious hate speakers - in terms that also included a decisively derogatory slur against those of the homosexual orientation. No to be outdone, the verbal bomb thrower for the Democratic Party is Bill Maher who has long since left behind his roots of political satire and instead has replaced them with angry lashings out and ill-considered remarks, such as when he referred to the murderers of 9-11 as stupid but heroic. Adding insult to injury he is also on record as comparing retarded children to dogs.
The First Amendment seems to be stretched to breaking when supporting the haters on both sides of the isle. While many statements are ill-considered, downright ludicrous, and borderline idiotic, the firestorm set off by them has members of the far right and far left fringes rallying to their darlings’ defenses, hence disabling them from not only understanding the errors of their ways but all but keeping them from offering up the apologies that should accompany their vitriol. In this sense, it is the fringe that is pandering to the haters as much as the hater is pandering to the fringe.
While in the past this kind of speech was only found in books, on the Internet, and at meetings of the blindly devoted, it is now in the mainstream and almost inescapable. Is this a new trend for the First Amendment? Does it usher in the new way of doing (political) business? Are the fringes taking over mainstream politics? Only time will tell. What is evident from the point of the civil rights aficionado, however, is the fact that hatred, vitriol, and downright nastiness are protected utterances, and more and more inescapable.