Franklin Countys First News

Politics & Other Mistakes: You can’t say that

Al Diamon

The trouble with the right to free speech is other people’s vocal cords. They insist on flapping them to utter obnoxious noises.

Also, other people’s computers, used to produce ridiculous postings. And let’s not forget other people’s fingers, which operate the aforementioned computers, light matches to burn American flags and flip us the bird when we politely suggest they conceal their ignorance by shutting their pie holes.

“Why they’ve got to go make these silly statements, I don’t know,” said a prominent Mainer during a radio appearance in late December. This person was referring to Democrats protesting the election of Donald Trump as president. But his comment could be interpreted more broadly, considering that the speaker is something of an expert concerning “silly statements.” He’s Paul LePage, Maine’s Republican governor and loudspeaker-equipped inflatable lawn ornament.

More proof that free speech is a nasty business.

Which may be why so many people in this state are trying to get rid of it.

In September in the liberal bastion of Portland, somebody used a wall set aside for graffiti to paint a portrait of LePage dressed in Ku Klux Klan garb. The city’s mayor immediately called for its removal. “I do not want it up there,” Ethan Strimling told the Press Herald. “It is not reflective of our values.”

Shortly afterwards, another artist altered the painting to show the governor in Mickey Mouse ears. Apparently, that did reflect Portland’s values, because Strimling said nothing further.

Last spring, an electronic sign on Main Street in Mexico (the town, not the place Trump wants to wall off) began displaying such messages as “Weed the People.com” and “Cannabis oil cures cancer.” That prompted town officials to send the property owners a letter that stopped just short of demanding the sign’s removal. “Reasonable people do not do something like that,” Town Manager John Madigan told the Sun Journal.

In Mexico, reasonable people are in short supply.

A South Portland High School student who wore a Trump “Make America Great Again” hat to school was harassed by two staffers.

An anti-abortion protester, who stood outside Planned Parenthood’s Portland office and shouted stuff about Jesus and dead babies, has been charged by the Maine Attorney General’s office with violating the state’s civil rights law.

The Maine Department of Corrections has, upon receiving legal advice, reluctantly stopped enforcing a rule that prohibited family members from posting online or publishing writings of prisoners.

But perhaps the weirdest recent attack on free speech comes from somebody who might be mistaken for a journalist.

In general, journalists are strongly in favor of the First Amendment and its guarantee of reporting unfettered by government. But George Smith has told me he doesn’t consider himself a journalist – even though he writes weekly columns for the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel, a blog for the Bangor Daily News and co-hosts a cable-access TV show.

In his December 14 column, Smith lists a few ways elections could be improved. Some of his ideas make sense: banning campaign signs on public property, making it illegal for Clean Election candidates to also run privately funded political action committees, getting rid of legislative term limits. But it’s Smith’s first suggestion that runs afoul of free speech.

He wants to let the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices (motto: Issuing Inconsequential Fines Since Sometime in the 1980s) “check the honesty of political ads.”

Smith goes on to say, “If they determine an ad is false, they should require the ad’s sponsor to immediately make a correction, using the same media that was used for the false ad. And the commission should issue a press release noting the inaccuracy of the ad.”

Only two problems with that. First, it’s unconstitutional for the government to tell political candidates (or anybody else) what they can say. Second, determining what’s false is nearly impossible. If candidate D calls candidate H “crooked,” how will the commissioners determine whether that’s a fact, a matter of opinion or a lie? There’s no objective way to do so.

Smith should stick to hunting and fishing, subjects about which he has some familiarity, and leave it to voters to sort out the messy blessings of free speech.

I’ll shut up now, and let you blather on at aldiamon@herniahill.net.

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10 Responses »

  1. It seems that most of the time free speech is only allowed if it is politically correct or is expressed by some minority view point

  2. We're those Portland staffers fired for their actions?
    I'm guessing not..

    Double standard.

  3. How is Free Speech affected by censorship? What does censoring opposing views say about the views the censor has regarding Free Speech? If a viewer/listener/reader prefers the broadcasts/articles produced by a source known to censor/slant their output, and would love to see the opposition silenced, what does that say about the receiver's views on Free Speech?

  4. as Al Diamon once so accurately pointed out.

    ."Liberals are very tolerant,, until you say something they disagree with".

    Then,,wild eyed hysteria happens!!

  5. I'm still going to say what I think, no matter what the law is. Doesn't mean I'm right but if we all shut up, eventually no one will be able to say anything without getting thrown into jail. You've heard the saying, "Use it or lose it?" Well, if you don't exercise your freedom of speech, eventually, you will lose it

  6. Al's column is the only reason I come to this site. He lets people speak their minds whether anyone likes it or not. And I, personally, think his stuff his great. He even lets people who disagree with him voice their feelings like other places do. Do you want to live in a world where u can't say anything without offending someone? Then maybe these babies ought to grow up and find out that the world isn't a touchy feely place and u have to take care of yourself and put a little effort into others, too, and not just u

  7. Telling "FIRE"" in a crowded theater will get you a conversational a judge....
    Repeating "GET OVER IT. As you rant and rave will get you no where.

    Free speech "IS" precious...too many people wasting it.
    A little wisdom mixed in might actually get some results.

    A brother offended is harder be won than a strong city.

    What are you trying to accomplish with your free speech?

  8. As a "liberal," I've got no problem with free speech and I don't even care if you have opinions different than mine. My two issues with free speech: 1) when people expect that they can say and do what they please with no consequences at all because they have "free speech"...well, the first amendment really only protects you from government action against your speech (except in limited circumstances); and 2) I'm getting pretty sick and tired of terms like "libtard" and people on all points of the political spectrum throwing a hissy fit and resorting to name-calling when they are confronted with a different opinion. It's just very sad. Same applies to when Trump calls people "loser," "washed-up," etc. when he doesn't like what they have to say about him.

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