On Monday, February 11, I thought I might begin the week by composing a semi-respectful tribute to semi-honest Abe on the eve of his birthday. But then I figured there will be a number of others doing just that, so why send "coals to New Castle," as our British friends say.
Most historians, editors, columnists and, especially, Republicans, revere Lincoln as "our greatest president." Next they place Washington, since he was Numero Uno. Today’s Republicans, especially neocons, like to add Reagan to the pantheon. The publisher of the New Hampshire Union Leader has published an editorial about President’s Day in which he sings the praises of Reagan, Washington and Lincoln — in that order. Clearly, things have gotten out of hand.
But I digress from my digression. I have decided to perform a public service by offering to readers of this website an example of how to write a semi-respectful letter to wrongheaded political columnist. The following was sent to syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker.
Dear Ms. Parker:
What follows may seem unduly harsh and not very "nice," but I have long believed that niceness is overrated. When defending the Bill of Rights, I’d rather be brutally frank — especially when defending the Bill of Rights from someone who no doubt believes she is a friend of same.
With all due respect, Ms. Parker, you just don’t “get it.” You have not even a clue to suggest to you that you are clueless. I refer to your column, appearing in this morning’s New Hampshire Union Leader under the headline. “Irrational conservatism has taken hold of some in the GOP.”
What prompted me to go right to my e-mail is this sentence, written in an apparently half-hearted defense of the McCain-Feingold Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act and Sen. McCain’s loopy (and self-serving) notion that “purchased speech isn’t free.” You go on to say:
“When some people have greater access to ‘free speech’ by virtue of their deeper pockets, then one could fairly argue that less prosperous people are denied free speech.” Ah, so.
Yes, one cold “fairly argue” that way. One has the right to be a ninny. That is part of the meaning of “the freedom of speech.” But by that line of reasoning — I shall refrain at this point from dubbing it the Parker Doctrine — Congress, or perhaps the president or even the courts, might either shut down newspapers or strictly regulate their content because some people purchase newspapers, most of which come with editorial pages, “by virtue of their deeper pockets.” Less prosperous people can’t afford to buy a newspaper and publish their opinions to 70,000 or more people in the state of New Hampshire every day the way the publisher of The New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News does. I’m sure the publisher is happy about that, although the Union Leader, to its credit, has opposed the McCain-Feingold campaign “reform.”
But most major newspapers eagerly embraced it and have denounced the “sham issue ads” that are financed by private parties with independent expenditures. The major media moguls want the “right” people (people who look, or better yet think and sound, like them) to control the political debate and tell people what the issues are and where the candidates stand on them.
The argument often invoked by campaign finance “reformers,” that “money is not speech” is bogus. Your colleague, George Will, has made an argument that goes something like this: Suppose the First Amendment specifically guaranteed “the freedom to travel.” (I’m sure it’s somewhere in the penumbras.) Then suppose Congress passed a law limiting how much we the people may spend on airline tickets, or prohibiting private citizens from chartering aircraft. And let us assume for the sake of discussion that this is not for air safety or security reasons. Let us say the justification for such legislation is that people travel excessively or charter private aircraft “by virtue of their deeper pockets” and that less prosperous people are thus denied freedom of travel. (That’s your non sequitur, but under the First Amendment, you’re entitled to it.)
Again, let us suppose that the First Amendment said, “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of travel.” Would not the act of Congress I have just described be an abridgement of the freedom to travel? Would it not then be a clear violation of the constitutional prohibition? And since the First Amendment does say, “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech,” how is the McCain-Feingold law not a violation of that amendment?
And what has McCain had to say — for that matter, what has Kathleen Parker had to say — about President Bush’s claim of a right to imprison indefinitely — without charges, without trial, without anything resembling due process — anyone, including an American citizen, whom he designates an "enemy combatant"? Perhaps you may show me where I am wrong, but I believe Sen. McCain, like most of the cravens in Congress, has yet to utter Word One, or even peep one, in opposition to that egregious abuse of executive power.
In short, John McCain is an EBOR — an Enemy of the Bill of Rights. If you don’t know that, then I fear I am not exaggerating when I say you are clueless about your state of cluelessness.
Finally, I hope you will at least stop expressing the McCaniac mind-set by putting quotation marks around “free speech.” That suggests it is “so-called free speech,” implying our claim to the “freedom of speech” is but another “sham issue,” being neither real nor legitimate. It’s as though I were to refer to “friend” of the Constitution Kathleen Parker.
Manchester, NH, resident Jack Kenny [send him mail] is a freelance writer.