A Rush To Condemn

Well, they’re at it again. Twenty House Democrats recently introduced a Resolution that “condemns in the strongest possible terms the personal attacks made by the broadcaster Rush Limbaugh impugning the integrity and professionalism of Americans serving in the Armed Forces who have expressed opinions regarding military actions in Iraq.” The resolution was prompted by Limbaugh’s apparent insinuation that soldiers who oppose the Iraq war are “phony soldiers” (the transcript of Limbaugh’s remarks is here). Republicans have prepared their own Resolution “Honoring all Americans serving in the Armed Forces of the United States and commending broadcaster Rush Limbaugh for his relentless efforts to build and maintain troop morale through worldwide radio broadcasts and personal visits to conflict regions.” Democrats apparently see this as their “General Betray Us” moment. Republicans now have yet another opportunity to discuss and debate something other than the war policies of the nation. The House is, it seems, happily pre-occupied. It is little wonder that Congress’s approval rating hovers below 30%.

As I said in an earlier post concerning the controversy sparked by the “General Betray Us” ad placed in the New York Times by MoveOn.org, official condemnation of political expression conveyed by private citizens and organizations is simply not an appropriate function of the Congress. (For a similar perspective, see Geoff Stone’s comments regarding the Senate’s condemnation of the MoveOn.org ad). In addition to being a waste of legislative resources, these condemnatory resolutions are an unwarranted interference with what ought to be a “robust” and “wide open” marketplace in political expression. In a new mangling of the First Amendment, the Democrats’ resolution purports not only to condemn Limbaugh’s expression but also to “defend” the First Amendment rights of soldiers who criticize the Iraq war. When the dust from this latest pseudo-controversy settles, perhaps Congress ought to spend some time reviewing the text of the First Amendment. It expressly condemns governmental laws abridging freedom of expression; and it offers no “protection” whatever to soldiers (or anyone else) against “personal attacks” by private citizens like Mr. Limbaugh or private organizations like MoveOn.org.

The real point of this rather silly exercise is to fire up base constituents and score (very) cheap political points. Sure, Congress is a political body — and yes, it can and does weigh in on matters of public concern. Still, I hope that a principled member of Congress will propose a “Joint Resolution Condemning All Condemnatory Resolutions of Political Expression.”

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9 Responses

  1. Yes, the Democrats’ resolution is silly. So was the “Betray-Us” resolution. I read this current resolution as a bit of political theater, where the subtext is “these two motions are opposite sides of the same coin — they should stand or fall together”.

  2. Charles Orsburn says:

    Opinions are like ass holes, everyone has at least one. Limbaugh is the grandfather of them all. It is amazing how he can know everything about everything just by being. He has made millions by simply reinforcing the neo cons hatred, greed, and ignorance. Who cares what Rush says. It is all calculated to get money from his ditto heads. He has never been right and it has never mattered.

  3. Charles Orsburn says:

    Opinions are like ass holes, everyone has at least one. Limbaugh is the grandfather of them all. It is amazing how he can know everything about everything just by being. He has made millions by simply reinforcing the neo cons hatred, greed, and ignorance. Who cares what Rush says. It is all calculated to get money from his ditto heads. He has never been right and it has never mattered.

  4. Charles Orsburn says:

    Opinions are like ass holes, everyone has at least one. Limbaugh is the grandfather of them all. It is amazing how he can know everything about everything just by being. He has made millions by simply reinforcing the neo cons hatred, greed, and ignorance. Who cares what Rush says. It is all calculated to get money from his ditto heads. He has never been right and it has never mattered.

  5. Roberta Dyer says:

    I agree this is just political stunts on both sides. What I find so amusing about all of this is Sean Hannity’s insistence that people “come after me”. Poor baby, he needs some attention too.

  6. Mikey Jones says:

    The Democratic resolution is silly. Just as the MoveOn.org resolution was. What Limbaugh says matters to a group of people. But that group of people is getting smaller and smaller. Once the Repub primaries are over, I suspect you will see less and less pandering to that group. in the interim, it is time for Congress do the only thing that matters and can’t be vetoed or filibustered — refuse to spend any more money on the war. If Congress did that, its approval rating would skyrocket.

  7. AYY says:

    Timothy, there was no apparent insinuation that soldiers who oppose the war are “phony soldiers.” That’s just what Media Matters wants you to believe.

    Rush was clearly referring to one soldier who had misrepresented his credentials.

    Also the purpose of the resolution wasn’t just to play to the base, it was to try to discredit Rush, because of what he could do to Hillary. But it’s not working. Rush is making the Dems look bad on this.

    Charles, you sound like you don’t listen to the show. Rush is actually quite engaging. Besides if you’re a Dem you can learn more about what’s going on in your party from him than just about anywhere else.

  8. Nate Oman says:

    Timothy: I am not sure that I buy into the premise of your argument, namely that it is improper per se for Congress to condemn the private speech of citizens. Surely one of the things that government has the power to do is speak. Indeed, it seems to me that the first amendment — at least as currently interpreted — itself contemplates government speech by placing a content based restriction of it via the establishment clause, namely the government cannot constitutionally say certain things such as “Quakerism is the one true and official religion of the United States.” On the other hand, there are lots of things where I suspect that government speech is a better response than government policy. Suppose, for example, that one subscribes to the Clinton positon on abortion, namely that it ought to be safe, legal, and rare. One might want to increase the rarity of abortion via government speech, say by extolling the virtues of adoption, rather than via government regulation. Likewise, in response to particularlly hateful speech, government counterspeech — as a communal statement of condemnation — may be a better alternative than regulation or collective silence. Of course, these sorts of decisions have to be made on a case by case basis, and when Congressional approval is very low its speech may mean very little. But I am not sure that there ought to be a per se norm saying that private speech should be insulated from the verbal condemnation of government.

    I agree with you, however, that what is happening here is an attempt to score cheap political points. On the other hand, since scoring cheap political points is a large part of what Congress does, I would much rather that they do so via government speech than via perverse regulations or subsidies.

  9. Jack Sprat says:

    Surely one of the things that government has the power to do is speak. Indeed, it seems to me that the first amendment — at least as currently interpreted — itself contemplates government speech by placing a content based restriction of it via the establishment clause, namely the government cannot constitutionally say certain things such as “Quakerism is the one true and official religion of the United States.”

    Furthermore, the Speech and Debate Clause contemplates governmental speech apart from the individual speech rights of citizens who happen to be legislators.