A few days ago, editorial cartoonist George Danby came up with a rather interesting take on the minicontroversy that is Ted Nugent’s visit to Bangor. In the cartoon, two people are sitting in a diner of some kind, with one complaining that criticism of Nugent is unfair because he meant no harm, “unlike the comments about Bush from those Tarts in Texas, the Dixie Chicks.”
A somewhat dated reference, as the Dixie Chicks firestorm happened nine years ago, but still an accurate criticism of the political double standards too many of us engage in.
My trouble with the cartoon wasn’t so much the point it was making — it was largely true — but rather that the exact opposite point could just as easily have been made, with just as much truth.
Imagine a cartoon lampooning liberals who defended the Dixie Chicks’ right to say offensive things about President Bush, but who are now calling for Nugent’s head when the criticism is aimed at a president of their own party. Just as poignant.
The hypocrisy of engineered outrage flows both ways. Never was this more on display than in Bangor recently.
Last week, at a National Rifle Association convention, Nugent began to opine about the danger of re-electing President Obama. He said, “If Barack Obama becomes the president in November, again, I will either be dead or in jail by this time next year.”
Anyone who listened to what he said before and after that comment would know that he was making a hyperbolic statement, implying that the Obama administration is going to come for his guns, and other freedoms, and his refusal to cooperate will lead to his arrest or death. It was a magnificently stupid comment, but little more than that.
But when stupid comments become fodder for politicians trying to engineer controversy for their own benefit, watch out.
Bob Dole once quipped that “the most dangerous place in Washington is between Charles Schumer and a television camera.” In 2012, it seems that the most dangerous place to be is actually between Bangor City Councilor Charlie Longo and a keyboard. Mr. Longo wasted no time trying to take advantage of this situation to gain some publicity for himself.
On April 19, Longo sent a letter to Alex Gray, CEO of Waterfront Concerts, which is hosting Nugent’s performance in Bangor. Not content to simply send his letter of concern to Gray, Longo decided to take a self-congratulatory victory lap for his good deed, and post the letter to his website and mention it every chance he could.
In the letter, Longo asserts that Nugent’s comments were “violent” and “threatening.” In a bit of delicious irony, he claimed, “Mr. Nugent has proved time and time again that he will use any means necessary to keep himself in the headlines, regardless of the shameful things he says.”
With trumpets no doubt blaring and a dramatic, West Wing-style crescendo accompanying the rant, Longo closes by declaring, “Regardless of your feelings on the upcoming election this November, I believe we both agree there is no room for violence in our democracy.”
That is a rather remarkable perversion of reality, and all done in the name of political showboating.
I certainly have no respect for the particular opinion espoused by Nugent. I do not support the president’s re-election, but I don’t think he will be instituting a gun confiscation program that will result in armed showdowns with citizens who refuse to abdicate their Second Amendment rights. Frankly, I don’t think Nugent believes that either.
But I always have subscribed to the sentiment, popularly attributed to Voltaire, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
Ted Nugent has some spicy things to say, to be sure. So do radicals of all political stripes. They are extreme, they often make us uncomfortable, and sometimes, they are even right.
The First Amendment guarantees that people have the right to say unpopular, controversial things. While Mr. Longo is within his own First Amendment right to request Nugent be dropped from the concert series, such a request is inappropriate and foolish. Attempting to punish political speech should be something we all seek to avoid, and a city councilor should know better.
Matthew Gagnon, a Hampden native, is a Republican political strategist. He previously worked for Sen. Susan Collins and the National Republican Senatorial Committee. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org and read his blog at www.pinetreepolitics.com.