Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Let Freedom Reign in the Peace You Make With and For Each Other


In To Kill a Mockingbird, Robert E. Lee Ewell struts about Maycomb, Alabama like a man who has earned the respect of his neighbors. He expects to be treated well because he belongs to the group held in high regard: white people during the sorrowful days of segregation.

What readers recognize is how undeserving Bob actually is. He is a chronic hanger-on, dependent upon public money. His home is quite literally the town dump where odors and vermin play, hardly the home for a large family for which he does not provide. Worse, there is no mother for the children even mentioned or missed, casting doubt upon the children’s parentage. Mayella Ewell, the oldest child, cares for her siblings and scavenges for household goods among the town’s discards. She scrapes together the resources to plant a few begonias, one futile gesture in a life devoid of beauty.

When Bob and Mayella become collateral damage in Atticus’s efforts to defend and free an innocent man, Tom Robinson, Bob takes offense, even going so far as to spit on Atticus. His son, Jem, wishes that Atticus would fight back, but Atticus explains his pacifist stand, saying, “Jem see if you can stand in Bob Ewell’s shoes a minute.  I destroyed his last shred of credibility at that trial, if he had any to begin with.  The man had to have some kind of comeback, his kind always does. So if spitting in my face and threatening me saved Mayella Ewell one extra beating, that’s something I’ll gladly take.  He had to take it out on somebody and I’d rather it be me than that household full of children out there.”

Readers admire Atticus for his insight, his forbearance, and his empathy for poor Mayella, a liar equal to her father in condemning Tom Robinson. Atticus possesses a strength of character to which most of us aspire, and that is one reason he is so heroic and beloved.

Readers soon know, however, that Atticus underestimated Bob Ewell. He was not content just to spit and spew vitriol. In stealth, he pursued those who had participated in his shame, the judge and Atticus, even attacking Atticus’s two children, proving that words can and often do precipitate violence.

And that is what brings me to Ted Nugent and others of his ilk. They have a right to speak filth and ignorance. The Constitution guarantees them that right., and I would not wish to rewrite the Consitution, but a legal interpretation of limits upon that right include censoring those who endanger others with their words. The classic example of such censorship uses the word “Fire!” A citizen may not shout “fire” in a crowded theater because many people will panic, harming themselves and others in their desperate flight to safety.

I contend that Ted Nugent’s words, hereafter reluctantly repeated to identify what he said, are tantamount to screaming “Fire!” Speaking before a large gathering of National Rifle Association members, Nugent said: “If Barack Obama becomes the president in November again, I will be either be dead or in jail by this time next year,” perhaps hinting that someone may have to pry his cold, dead fingers from his gun because he will fight to the death if someone tries to take it from him or perhaps hinting at some revolutionary act of violence against the outcome of a legal election.

The context, a gathering of NRA members, makes Nugent’s words particularly alarming because the NRA can be directly tied to misstatements, hyperbole, Stand Your Ground laws, and outright paranoia. Thus, it follows that at least some of its membership may be misled, defensive, and paranoid. Lest you believe I am guilty of misstating the case myself, I refer you to CPAC, September 2011 and the words of NRA President Wayne LaPierre who said that the President privately plans to control and/or ban guns and warns members not to believe President Obama’s public remarks. According to LaPierre, who must be prescient, the President’s public statements about the Second Amendment and guns are a “big, fat, stinking lie.” LaPierre offers no evidence whatsoever, and neither does Nugent for his outrage.

Both men and some Tea Party affiliates seem to believe that a baseless offense is the best defense against their own fears and ignorance. Refusing even to grant our president the respect that is his due, Nugent et al refer to the president by his last name only. They fall back upon the old insults, some of which surfaced when African-Americans tried to engage in the political process by voting. Those insults included a demand for proof of the President’s birthright to serve. Even after seeing the certified legal document, they still raise the specter of the President’s illegitimacy to hold office.

Nugent and his clones question the very soul of President Obama, sowing doubt and reaping opposition as they wonder if the President is as Christian as he says he is or even Christian at all. One woman rose before Candidate Rick Santorum and professed her hatred for the President because he is a Muslim, and Santorum, supposedly because she was old, did not correct her or defend the President as was his duty as a United States citizen.

Once upon a time, no man would have dared to carry and display a weapon at a political rally. Several did during the campaign before the 2008 and 2010 elections. Once upon a time, the Ted Nugents would have had a degree of conscience and would not have uttered veiled threats against a public official, especially the official in the White House. Once upon a time, innuendo and gossip would never be held up as news, repeated hourly for the uninformed to hear and absorb, as it was when LaPierre spoke.

Once upon a time, no decent citizen would have rallied behind Rush Limbaugh as he called for sex tapes from a law student, and once upon a time, none of us would have heeded Glen Beck’s ramblings and bought gold at inflated prices from a company charged with fraud; they would have recognized both flim and flam together in a flim-flam come-on. Finally, once upon a time, citizens would have worried about the power of words to inflame the sick, weak, and unbalanced. Representative Gabby Giffords suffers because citizens did not condemn such language or seek help for a disturbed citizen.

Now Nugent spits fire, and no one objects. Nugent is not even as decent as curmudgeonly John McCain who came to Candidate Obama’s defense when Palin’s devotees cried words of death about the Democratic candidate. Nugent is more like the 2012 Republican candidates who have heard violent, hateful speech during their debates and have said nothing to restore peace. They have let the applause and hoots speak, and their silence is tacit endorsement.

Readers, citizens, listeners, Progressives, Liberals, Conservatives, Tea-Party patriots, Republicans, ditto-heads, and all: curb your vicious tongues. Let freedom reign in the peace you make with and for each other.

Oh, and don’t spend a penny on a concert where Ted Nugent will appear. Speak with your pockets; it’s a powerful voice.