Rights and Wrongs

Lately, much that’s in the news causes the observant to wonder how long our treasured rights, as allegedly guaranteed in the first ten amendments of the Constitution, will be available to us to exercise. My current reading is the eye-opening exposé by John Whitehead, A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State. It documents how, slowly but surely, we the sheople are being preyed on by our exalted rulers with lethal force.

I am really prompted to compose this post today, though, by a semi-amusing story on the Huffington Post site, showing how an enterprising county fair game proprietor found notoriety by using President Obama’s face as a dart board target. Now, in today’s polarized atmosphere, reaction is sure to range from attaboys to calls for hate crime prosecution. But let’s look at it in the larger picture.

Does the vendor have a right to do this? Absolutely. He is protected by the First Amendment’s freedom of speech clause, which he did not overstep by infringing on anyone else’s rights. Fairgoers are free to play, or not to play, his game. And certainly Mr. Obama was not injured by the display.

Did he exercise good judgment? Probably not. He made a political statement distasteful to many, and that could harm his business as well as that of the fair he was at. It’s not a charitable idea in general to impute any approbation to children, who have been known to be quite numerous at county fair midways, in the matter of throwing a dart at the likeness of a person’s head. (Yeah, leave that to the adults….)

Interesting, though, that many current complainers would have been fine, eight years ago, if the visage were that of George W. Bush. Same right, same exercise of judgment. Why would some view it differently?

Does it in fact make any difference that it’s a president’s face at all? I would argue that it should not. One unfortunate reality of the last couple of centuries in this country is that the office has been raised far above the station intended for it by the Founders. As the character Joe Pesci played in the 1994 movie With Honors put it,

The President isn’t an elected King, no matter how many bombs he can drop, because the crude Constitution doesn’t trust him. He’s a servant of the people. He’s a bum, okay Mr. Pitkannan? He’s just a bum.

Indeed. Any President, any Congress critter, any supreme, superior, or inferior court judge, any bureaucrat or IRS lackey needs to remember that WE THE PEOPLE are their boss, and they serve at our pleasure. A president deserves the respect due any citizen of these United States. No more, no less.

And yes, I have specifically said CITIZEN. That will disqualify me from being a public servant in the city of Seattle, which is spending its time less in good governance than in policing the dictionary.

That leads into the topic of my previous “leisure” (i.e., other than work or degree program) reading, Walter Block’s provocative The Case for Discrimination. If you want a thoroughgoing libertarian’s perspective on the topic, this is it. You can download the e-book from Barnes & Noble for the princely sum of three dollars. Well worth it!


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