Attention conservatives: you have the right to hate any group you want. Blacks, gays, Muslims, Jews, other sects of Christians, whoever you like. In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court has noted numerous times that the First Amendment guarantees “freedom of thought” in addition to freedoms such as religion and expression. Consequently, you can think as many hateful thoughts as you choose.
But here’s the thing: if you voice those hateful views publicly, you will be held accountable. That’s called personal responsibility. You would think people on the right would be familiar with that concept since they idolize Ronald Reagan, who famously said, “It is time to restore the American precept that each individual is accountable for his actions.”
Look, you aren’t going to find a bigger defender of freedom of speech than myself. I’m both a writer and standup comedian, so expression is my lifeblood. But the First Amendment does not provide you immunity. It simply means that the government can’t prevent you from expressing yourself. But once you say something, you will be called to answer for it.
This is the same reason Alec Baldwin was fired last month from his MSNBC show for making gay slurs. (Despite claims from the right, Alec Baldwin was indeed criticized publicly by GLAAD for his comments.) And it’s the same reason Martin Bashir was pushed out at MSNBC for his horrible comments about Sarah Palin.
Yet despite that bedrock principle of the conservative movement, some are now arguing in essence that Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson should get a free ride for his anti-gay comments. And lets be perfectly clear: Robertson is not in trouble for saying that: “It seems like, to me, a vagina—as a man—would be more desirable than a man’s anus.” (Why so many on the right are obsessed with other people’s anuses is something I’ll never fully comprehend.)
The words at issue were when Robertson equated people having sex with animals as the same as sex between consenting gay adults. Together with his comments likening gays to terrorists, “whether they’re homosexuals, drunks, terrorists. We let God sort ’em out later, you see what I’m saying?” This was clearly a homophobic rant that demonized Americans simply because of their sexual orientation.
Robertson’s comments led A&E, the network that airs his megahit show, to suspend him indefinitely. They didn’t fire him. Nor did A&E pull Duck Dynasty off the air. They didn’t even say they weren’t going to pay Robertson. Bottom line: A&E acted swiftly to save the brand of Duck Dynasty, a show that generates millions in ad revenue for the network. A&E made the right call.
However, this measured response outraged many on the right. Some took to Twitter to scream that “freedom of speech” is being destroyed. GOP USA has blasted A&E.
Never one to miss a chance for publicity, Sarah Palin posted on Facebook: “Free speech is an endangered species. Those ‘intolerants’ hatin’ and taking on the Duck Dynasty patriarch for voicing his personal opinion are taking on all of us.” (Only Palin could claim that a person who has just voiced intolerant comments like Robertson is being attacked by “intolerants.”)
Of course, when Martin Bashir made despicable comments about Palin, she didn’t defend him by saying, “Free speech is an endangered species.” Nope, instead she slammed Bashir’s comments as being “vile” and “evil.” And officials at Palin’s political action committee demanded that MSNBC punish Bashir.
Even Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal chimed in this morning, defending Robertson with the statement, “I remember when TV networks believed in the First Amendment. It is a messed up situation when Miley Cyrus gets a laugh, and Phil Robertson gets suspended.”” How Jindal can believe that Miley Cyrus twerking is the same as demonizing a minority group is beyond words. Jindal then lashed out the “politically correct” crowd, which is code that someone wants to be able to disparage minorities without consequences. Sorry, Bobby, those days are long gone in America.
Robertson understands this better than the governor of Louisiana. He released a statement after the firestorm erupted that said, among other things, that he would “never treat anyone with disrespect just because they are different from me.” There’s no reason not to believe Robertson. This isn’t a situation like TV Chef Paula Deen where we saw a long history of racially insensitive statements. The result was that Deen ending up losing millions in endorsements.
In contrast to Deen’s plight, I predict Duck Dynasty’s ratings will actually increase. Very similar what we saw with Chick-Fil-A appreciation day after the fast-food chain’s owner made comments opposing marriage equality.
But regardless what happens with Duck Dynasty’s ratings, it should be clear to all that we live in a country where liberals and conservative are both held accountable for the words they say. And that is the way it should be.