First Amendment Follies

I’m a big fan of the First Amendment.  You know the one — freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom to assemble, freedom to petition the government.   The Founders were admittedly fairly intelligent gentleman, but putting all of these together . . . were they short of paper?  Guns get an amendment all their own, but the right to dance naked under a full moon in homage to the god of grapevines doesn’t seem all that closely connected to writing a letter to your senator.   (Or does it . .  . ?)

Free speech, in all of its assemblying, praying, and petitioning forms, was a stroke of genius on the part of Jefferson, Franklin, Adams,  And putting it FIRST . . . pure brilliance.

But, our freedom of speech has its limits.  We know you can’t scream “FIRE” in a crowded movie theater.  Making reference to the bomb in your shoe at Laguardia would probably not be advised either.  And for goodness’ sake, don’t threaten the life of the President unless you want Secret Service agents camping on your lawn.

Generally speaking, however, we can say whatever it is we want.  We can claim the sky is orange.  We can start a website which offers ample scientific “proof” that the world is flat.  We can advertise that we make you a bejillionaire from the comfort of your own home (for just three monthly payments of $49.99).

The problem really isn’t in what we say; the problem is that a certain number of people will actually believe us.

This is the first law of politics.  The economy needs a boost and you want to loosen the regulatory grip on the military-industrial complex?  No problem.  Just claim that an arch-enemy has weapons of mass destruction and worry about evidence later.

Always hang the (insert one: economy, war, tax burden, environment, etc.) on whoever is in office regardless of any facts which may point to someone else bearing some of the responsibility.  (Second law of politics — You must build a strong immunity to facts.)

Need a scapegoat to divert attention away from doing what you know no one will like?  Piece of cake.  Just grossly exaggerate the impact of (insert one: immigrants, gays, Muslims non-Christians, the other political party’s platform, etc.) on the Amurican way of life.

Don’t concern yourself with accuracy.  A considerable percentage of the population will believe the sky is orange if you just tell them with a smile and the Capitol steps as your backdrop.

This is the way of American politics, and I accept it as such.  It’s part of what makes the whole thing so damn interesting.  In fact, I probably wouldn’t pay attention at all if Sarah Palin was required to speak only the truth.

But, now perhaps we see the reason for jamming all those things into the First Amendment.   What is said and what is believed have such an inextricable relationship.   The preacher must have the congregants.  The politician must have the constituents.

Those constituents just need to remember the petitioning part of the Amendment.  We don’t have to believe what you say.  We can question and snarl and even mock.   We can walk away from your political altar unrepentant.

Most importantly, we can see for ourselves.  The sky is blue.

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