I figured since nearly everybody else has jumped into this pool of controversy (or pond, given the setting), and you cannot swing a dead duck without hitting a Facebook diatribe, angry tweet, or know-it-all talking head babbling over reality-TV star Phil Robertson’s recent controversial interview in GQ magazine, I may as well wade in a bit, too.
I am a proud American and a proud liberal, and I firmly believe in our Constitution and all that comes within it. So, while I personally disagree with the recent racially-charged and homophobic comments made by “Duck Dynasty” star Phil Robertson, I equally agree with the notion that as an American citizen Robertson has a fundamental right to make those comments out loud – however controversial, judgmental, and myopic they may be.
We all, as Americans, retain the right to our freedom of speech, and that obviously includes Phil Robertson. But despite the claims of so many people on The Right, the decision by A & E executives to briefly remove Robertson from “Duck Dynasty” was not about taking away his right to free speech, nor was it about unfairly silencing him. All the proof you need is the fact that Phil Robertson made his comments to the GQ reporter in the first place, and has since been able to speak out about those comments and defend them. Robertson’s opinions about the sin of homosexuality and, how back in the pre-Civil-Rights-era South, African-Americans appeared to be very happy under old Jim Crow laws have not landed him in jail, nor has he been fined heavily for them. He was allowed to make his statements, as is his right.
A & E’s decision to suspend Phil Robertson from “Duck Dynasty” was little more than a reflection of our Capitalist system. A & E does not want to lose advertisers, as that would cost the network money. When any company has an employee who publicly says things which may embarrass that company – or hurt their bottom line – they have a right to reprimand that employee in an appropriate manner. It’s funny to me that Republicans – the very same ones who claim anyone against the Free-Market is a Marxist or socialist – are decrying A & E’s decision as anti-American and a blatant violation of Robertson’s right to free speech. That is simply laughable. Robertson said some pretty ugly, hurtful things about various Americans, and his bosses – in this case the suits who run A & E – decided to distance themselves from his controversial comments; not unlike MSNBC did after their “employee” Martin Bashir made incendiary comments about former Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin. MSNBC placed Bashir on leave, and he later resigned. But you know what did not happen during that ugly incident? Throngs of conservatives did not defend Bashir’s right to free speech. Rather, they called for his firing.
“Those with that platform, with a microphone, a camera in their face, they have to have some more responsibility taken.” This is what Sarah Palin said about the Martin Bashir incident, yet when it comes to reality-star Phil Robertson (a religious conservative) saying vile things about African-Americans and the LGBT community, both she and her eldest daughter, Bristol, came out publicly and claimed Robertson’s own rights were being threatened – instead of holding him up to a higher responsibility.
But this is how it goes with those on the conservative side. Back in the early and mid-2000s, conservatives labeled Americans who spoke out against the Iraq war as un-American, un-patriotic, and claimed those who were exercising their 1st Amendment rights were, in fact, “giving aid and comfort to the enemy.” This last little fun quote was courtesy of Michael Burgess, a Republican Representative from Texas. Interesting how some of our democratically-elected leaders – whose primary job is to protect and uphold the laws of our land – will suddenly react more like a dictator whenever they hear something they don’t agree with.
Any time a liberal actor or left-leaning public figure speaks his or her mind about any subject that isn’t directly connected to their profession; those on the right will condemn or dismiss the individual, as though they’ve lost their rights as an American. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard a conservative mouth-piece criticize George Clooney or Oprah Winfrey for their vocalized opinions on a myriad of subjects ranging from African aid to typhoon Haiyan, I’d be able to start my own television network. Yet, in the past two weeks we’ve seen the right galvanize support around Phil Robertson, as though freedom itself were at stake here. Guess what, kids? It’s not.
Again, Phil Robertson said what he said, and whether you agree with him or not, he must be allowed to say such things without fear of being penalized by the government. But that does not extend to our private employers, nor to everyone else who ends up hearing what was said in the first place. I have as much right to vocally denounce what Phil Robertson said. If we are to be for the freedom of expression, then it must be totally acceptable to our ears, regardless of who says what. Otherwise, we’re not honoring our rights, but rather only our tastes and what we each find to be personally acceptable.
There has to be a meeting in the middle, and that is something that those on the right seem unwilling to admit, at least out loud for the rest of us to hear.