constitution_1.jpgNothing tests our commitment to the Constitution’s First Amendment principle of free speech than to be confronted by highly offensive speech from those with whom we strongly disagree.

So I guess it is only fitting that we now face such statements from right wing politicians and propagandists. How will we respond, given this solemn admonition?

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

In recent days, we’ve had Republican John Boehner suggest that the expenditure of $500 billion, 3,800 US troop deaths, 38,000 US wounded, hundreds of thousand of Iraqi casualties and massive destruction in Iraqi towns and cities will have been a “small price to pay” if only we can somehow claim victory over al Qaeda in Iraq. The First Amendment protects such statements absolutely, and we in turn are protected in expressing how outrageous we find Boehner’s judgment and views.

Now we have right wing radio propagandist Rush Limbaugh suggest that any US soldier in Iraq who believes the war was a mistake is a “phony soldier,” and thus someone who should be held in contempt, their views completely discounted.

Coming so soon after Congress voted twice to condemn a political organization for expressing an opinion in a newspaper, in a political debate about a general’s credibility, it is tempting to ask whether that same Congress will now consider a similar resolution condemning Rush Limbaugh, and indeed, any one else who might slander American soldiers in such an offensive and degrading manner. Surely Limbaugh’s comments deserve at least the degree of official condemnation Congress visited on MoveOn, don’t they?

The answer should be a resounding NO. Congress made an egregious error, showing utter contempt for the First Amendment, violating their oaths to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution, by officially censuring a political ad by a political organization. Those who voted for censure should themselves be censured by the public and media for seeking to intimidate the free exercise of political speech. As Jane so clearly stated, it’s Congress’ job to defend free speech. Indeed protecting America’s liberties such as free speech, and free press, and the right to petition the government — including the rights of those like Limbaugh who have never served and have no clue about what the First Amendment means — is one of the most legitimate reasons why we have armies and ask them to fight.

The needed remedy for Congress’ shameful actions last week is to rescind the resolutions they already passed. Contrary to the confused Senators who thought it would be politically shrewd only fair to also adopt a resolution condemning all criticisms of the military — e.g., those on Senators Kerry and Cleland as well as Petraeus — no resolution should ever have been offered or passed. And no such resolution should be considered for condemning Rush Limbaugh.

Like any veteran who has fought in America’s wars, I’m offended by Limbaugh’s odious statements and his ongoing disrepect for those who served in the military — but who happen to disagree with his narrow, right wing views. He deserves the strongest public criticism from us and others — but not from Congress.

The best way to deal with the likes of Limbaugh is to expose his offensive comments widely. I also support Jon Soltz’s plan to confront Limbaugh face to face, in public, on his own forum.

Finally, as Media Matters notes, just recently, members of the 82nd Airborne in Iraq wrote a New York Times op-ed, very critical of the course in Iraq, and suggesting it was time to figure out the exit strategy. Two of them just died. Will Rush call up their grieving parents and tell them that they should stop crying, because they were just “phony soldiers?”

Get the point here, Rush?

You weren’t just flat out wrong, you offended a majority of those of us who actually had the courage to go to Iraq and serve, while you sat back in your nice studio, coming up with crap like this.

My challenge to you, then, is to have me on the show and say all of this again, right to the face of someone who served in Iraq. I’ll come on any day, any time. Not only will I once again explain why your comments were so wrong, but I will completely school you on why your refusal to seek a way out of Iraq is only aiding al Qaeda and crippling American security.

Ball’s in your court.

General Wesley Clark thinks we should send Soltz’ challenge to Limbaugh. And President Clinton discusses the Republican hypocrisy about MoveOn’s ad with Anderson Cooper. Other reactions from Howie and others.



John has been writing for Firedoglake since 2006 or so, on whatever interests him. He has a law degree, worked as legal counsel and energy policy adviser for a state energy agency for 20 years and then as a consultant on electricity systems and markets. He's now retired, living in Massachusetts.

You can follow John on twitter: @JohnChandley