By Selena Zito GETTYSBURG â He almost was not asked to speak. In October 1863, President Abraham Lincoln received the same plain envelope that...
âYouâve come a Long Way BabyâŠ.NOT” by Ira Schwartz
âCongress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.â
To those of you unfamiliar with the above passage it is perhaps one of the most import sections in our constitution. It was so important our Founders listed it first, above all others in the Bill of Rights. It is the First Amendment which gives all Americans the right of FREE SPEECH. The First Amendment gives you the protection to say anything you want as long as it doesnât incite imminent danger.
There are exceptions to this amendment. A few of them are âobscenityâ, âCommercial Speechâ, which applies to false advertising and âFighting Wordsâ which are words or phrases that are likely to induce the listener to get in a fight. That last one is pretty broad based and has caused the Supreme Court a few headaches over the years.
But Iâm not writing this article to give you a brief amateur lesson in Constitutional Law but to give you a basis for understanding thisâŠ.The First Amendment protects our right to be idiots plain and simple and past history has born that statement as a âtruismâ more times than I can count. So why was I surprised by what happened at the Longworth House office building in Washington, D.C. on March 20th? To remind those of you who may have forgotten Representative Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) was spat upon by protestors, Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), a hero of the civil rights movement, was called a âniggerâ and Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) was called a “faggot.” Pretty disgusting stuff to say the least. I decided to write out the complete âNâ word because simply saying or writing the âN wordâ when reporting is sanitizing a disgusting event almost to the point of acceptability.
But getting back to my original question, âWhy was I surprised.â Because I thought we had grown up some from those horrible days of nastiness preceding the Civil Rights Movement. I though most of us had learned that all are created equal and should be treated as such. I guess I just believed that incidents like what happened in Washington were just isolated idiots who were looking for their 15 seconds of fame. Not really wanting to see that a deeper and more disturbing problem still exists in this country festering just below the surface.
Ray Taliaferro, a syndicated black shock jock on San Franciscoâs KGO radio was enraged by the happenings in Washington. And tucked away in his angry rhetoric was a simple question. And Iâm paraphrasing here, âYou bet I am enraged by this. But the bigger question is why arenât you?â And heâs right; all of us should be angry and offended by this ugly display.
But this sad drama has now gone one step further, Andrew Breitbart, publisher and author, has called into question the whole incident. In a quote from an interview with the Washington Independent Breitbart said…
âItâs time for the allegedly pristine character of Rep. John Lewis to put up or shut up. Therefore, I am offering $10,000 of my own money to provide hard evidence that the N- word was hurled at him not 15 times, as his colleague reported, but just once. Surely one of those two cameras wielded by members of his entourage will prove his point.
And surely if those cameras did not capture such abhorrence, then someone from the mainstream media â those who printed and broadcast his assertions without any reasonable questioning or investigation â must themselves surely have it on camera. Of course we already know they donât. If they did, youâd have seen it by now.â
So this circus continues as Republicans and Democrats hurl insults at one another and as usual blaming each other. But this is all camouflage used to hide the more serious problem; racism. And whether itâs against Blacks, Muslims, Hispanics, Jews or little green men it is still a festering undercurrent in America. When we elected a black president many people felt we were ushering in a new era in race relations. Most hope this would help America finally get past those ugly prejudices that have haunted this country since its inception. But Taliaferroâs angry cry, âYou bet I am enraged by this. But the bigger question is why arenât you?â still echoes in my head and I wonder how many of us out there can honestly say, âYes I am enraged.â and have the guts to do something about it.
Â© 2010 by Ira Schwartz. All rights reserved. Used by permission.