The musings of one Andrew Langer - defender of liberty, passionate protector of individual rights, foodie. (Note: Said Musings of Andrew Langer are his own, and the views represented herein are likewise his views, and not the views of any other people, entities, foodstuffs, etc [unless otherwise specifically and explicitly noted].)

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Spouting Off Like An Idiot (Or, Why Some Speech is Protected, While Other Speech Isn't)

Anne Coulter. Not a big fan. Then again, I don't know her personally. And I'm not a big fan of a lot of pundits, on either side. I think Laura Ingraham's got smarts a plenty. Kellyanne Conway really knows what she knows - she's a numbers person, and I have great respect for people who understand and use stats properly (like Ken Mehlman). On the other side there's Michele Mitchell, who wrote a great book, "A New Kind of Party Animal" and now works on Nova (almost wrote NoVA there - a force of habit).

But Coulter's always rubbed me the wrong way.

Anyhow, she opened her mouth last week, and made a really awful joke about poisoning a member of the high court. Not too funny (condemning the home of a Supreme Court member for a hotel - _that's_ clever). I put it in the same category as Pat Robertson's moronic statement about Ariel Sharon a few weeks ago - things that are just about the most moronic thoughts you can have, and really ought to best be kept to one's self.

So, this all went reported on on Andrew Kessler's blog ( - and while I hesitate to mention it, Kessler made a few more statements. I preface my thoughts by saying that I absolutely deplore and condemn the statements made by Coulter and Robertson both (which should be obvious by the paragraph above, but let's just make certain).

I'll get to what Kessler said in a moment, but let's just talk about speech, protection thereof, and the limits to individual rights.

We don't want to limit the rights of individuals to express themselves - in fact, it's just the opposite, we want to encourage as many people as possible to express themselves, especially when it comes to political speech. And essentially, all exercises of individual rights are limited by their implication of the rights of others.

In fact, all just laws are born out of that basic concept: I have a right to protect what's mine, but my right can't interfere with your rights in yourself and your property. Unless you're interfering with my rights.

Speech works the same way - you can say what you want, until that speech impacts on my rights. My rights to be secure in my person, for instance, which is why there are laws against making harassing statements, or making threats. Or why there are laws against slander and libel. Slander and libel cause me harm (though there are exceptions should the person being slandered be a public figure, or the statements so clearly untrue as to be implausible - as in Larry Flynt's satire of Rev. Jerry Falwell).

This is why there are laws against making threatening statements against public officials. See, unlike Mr. Kessler, I'm not going to make pronouncements as to the legality of Anne Coulter's deplorable remarks. They are deplorable and they merit an apology (and, perhaps, some soul searching on the part of Ms. Coulter as to exactly what she is trying to accomplish on this planet).

But I do understand why those laws exist - so that if the next Oswald or Sirhan Sirhan or Squeaky From (Frome?), Chapman, Booth, Guiteau, Hinkley or Unabomber starts making threatening statements against an official, something can be done about it. Moreover, so that those making the threats don't chill the free speech of those being threatened.

I've been on the receiving end of that sort of bullying. It's disconcerting. In my case, it didn't rise to the "Unabomber" level - thought it was somewhat more threatening than Ms. Coulter's remarks. But it certainly made me stop to think about the exercise of my rights.

Now, Mr. Kessler went a bit further than simply discussing Ms. Coulter's remarks. He then tried to paint the left as being free from such actions - and offered up the bet of $100 to the RNC if someone could demonstrate otherwise. He was somewhat specific, though a bit vague, as to the parameters - allow me to quote:

"No matter how angry liberal commentators get at the right, I can't recall one who has even joked about poisoning a public official. James Carville, Al Franken, Maureen Dowd- they all get pretty ticked off at the right. I'm putting my money where my mouth is, Ann. I will donate $100 to the Republican National Committee if you can show me proof that any of these people ever called for, or even joked about, the death of a Republican."

Now, I'm not certain if that $100 applies to just Mssrs Carville, Franken and Dowd - or to liberal commentators more generally. So, I'll cover my bases.

Randi Rhodes, Air America talk show host, May 10, 2004:

"They [the Bush Family] are the Corleones. The Fredo of the family is the president of the United States, so why doesn’t his father take him, or his brother, one of them, take him out for a little, uh, fishing? You know, let him say some Hail Marys, he loves God so much. Yeah, take him out, you know, "Hail Mary, full of grace, God is with thee" -- POW!... Works for Me."

Then, on April 26 2005, Rhodes aired a skit saying, "A spoiled child is telling us our Social Security isn’t safe anymore, so he is going to fix it for us. Well, here’s your answer, you ungrateful whelp: [audio sound of 4 gunshots being fired.] Just try it, you little bastard. [audio of gun being cocked]." The "spoiled child" she was referring to was the President.

And to Kessler's more specific group is Al Franken. Franken, of course, famously (and gleefully) joked (in the form of a prediction) in an interview with Matt Lauer on the Today Show that Karl Rove and Scooter Libby would be "executed" for treason. (10/25/2005)

So, several examples of liberal pundits (including Franken) who either joked about the assassination of the President or the death of Republicans.

You want to let Ken Mehlman know your check is coming, or should I?

- Andrew Langer


Blogger The leftist southpaw said...

The terms of the offer did not apply to you, Mr. Langer. Only to Ms. Coulter.

"I'm putting my money where my mouth is, Ann. I will donate $100 to the Republican National Committee if you can show me proof that any of these people ever called for, or even joked about, the death of a Republican."

'You', the pronoun, refers to the previously mentioned propper noun, 'Ann.' If the offer applied to everyone, I would have written 'anyone' instead of 'you.'

I commend your research skills, but Ann Coulter herself must post on my blog before I write the check. Sorry, but the terms of the offer are quite clear.

January 31, 2006 5:32 PM

Blogger Andrew Langer said...

See, the tactful thing to do would have been to say something along the lines of, "Gee, perhaps I spoke in haste and should have done a bit more research before I made that blanket statement regarding the behavior of my liberal brethren. I was wrong, and I apologize to the readers of my blog for that."

Discretion, after all, is the better part of valor.

No, instead your only response is to engage in a bit of linguistic gymnastics - not even the teeniest bit of an admission that your assertion was incorrect.

And actually, the prose of your blog post really wasn't all that clear - I even mentioed that it was somewhat vague.

See, first you were speaking to your general audience, offering your tutorial to your audience on how you view the first amendment. Then you made your assertion, again to your general audience. And _THEN_, for the first time, you spoke directly to Ms. Coulter.

You then immediately shifted back to speaking to your general audience, finally addressing her directly again in the last paragaph, with your challenge (a piece of advice on that, incidentally - when I challenge folks to live and in-person debates on subjects, they're generally folks I've already interacted with and usually immediately addressing on line. It's kinda fruitless to challenge people you don't know, who don't know you, with whom you've never interacted, to a debate.)

So, the audience is left somewhat confused by your offer - does it apply only to Ann Coulter (it would have been much more clear if you had said, "I'm putting my money where my mouth is. I will donate $100 to the Republican National Committee if you, Ms. Coulter, can show me proof that any of these people ever called for, or even joked about, the death of a Republican."

Furthermore "these people" was also vague: were you referring to the three people you mentioned, which is a very narrow range of individuals, let alone pundits? Or were you referring to the more general "liberal commentators"? I decided to hedge my bet and offer you examples from both sets.

Anyhow, I was much less interested in your giving money to the RNC than in simply seeing how you would respond to someone clearly pointing out that your assertion was an erroneous one.

You very much lived up to my expectations, and I thank you for that.

- Andrew Langer

February 01, 2006 9:21 AM

Anonymous Bruce said...

Just a note that this is the definition of Libertarian ideas. This is the Libertarian Platform, in a nutshell. [I know, I know, "how did I get in this bloody nutshell."]

"all just laws are born out of that basic concept: I have a right to protect what's mine, but my right can't interfere with your rights in yourself and your property. Unless you're interfering with my rights."

February 01, 2006 9:52 AM

Blogger The leftist southpaw said...

Linguistic gymnastics? is that what the law is called these days?

A unilateral contract offer may be accepted only by the person it was offered to, be it through action or verbal acceptance.

"you" means "you." If I wanted it to apply to anyone, I would have written "anyone."

The law IS linguistics. It's words, to be interpreted by the courts. When an attorney argues how to apply a law, he or she is arguing how words should be interpreted.

I know you read to a blind lawyer for three years, but it is clear you know very little about the law.

Linguistic gymnastics. That's rich. The next time that Mr. Justice Scalia or Thomas writes an opinion I do not agree with, I'll be sure to say that they engaged in "linguistic gymnastics."

As for your literary critique, it means very little to me. Please let me know if you would like MY critique on YOUR writing style, based on your piece in USA Today. I'd be happy to provide it for you.

Andrew Kessler
Juris Doctor
WCL Class of 1999

February 01, 2006 12:40 PM

Blogger Cajun Tiger said...

Thanks for doing the research Langer...I knew it would be easy to find worse comments by liberals than Coulter's, but didn't feel like wasting my time to prove it.

February 01, 2006 12:43 PM

Blogger Andrew Langer said...

CT -

Peter reminded me of another one - Julianne Malveaux in 1994 saying of Justice Clarence Thomas, "I hope his wife feeds him lots of eggs and butter and he dies early like many black men do, of heart disease."

- Andrew

February 01, 2006 2:04 PM

Blogger Andrew Langer said...

...of course, what Andrew Kessler fails to acknowledge is that my USA Today piece was heavily edited, for message, for length, for grammar - not just by me, but by others at NFIB, so it's probably not the most analogous comparison to make. It also begs the question as to the last time Mr. Kessler had an op-ed published in a major newspaper, or had a major media interview. But that's neither here nor there.

Now, I want to note something here. Way back when Mr. Kessler and I had our last interaction on this blog, I pointed out that he was ignoring substantive discussion in favor of sniping - ie, instead of talking about Katrina, the role of the federal government, the GOP's response, etc, he instead chose to focus on the more personal.

Such as it is here. I could care less about Mr. Kessler's writing style - it's his blog, he's welcome to write in any style he wishes. My concerns on that score were with the vagueness of his prose, and I offered what I thought was a clearer statement of what he was trying to convey - in light of the offer he was making. (BTW, Kess - I'm apparently not the only one who was confused by your prose. Other folks found the "you" to possibly be referencing Ann Coulter _or_ the more royal "you", ie, the readers of your blog).

By "linguistic gymnastics", Mr. Kessler, I was referring to your re-focused response to my pointing out where you were in error, your reliance on what I identified as vague and confusing language in your blog post. I could just as easily have called it "weasling out" of your deal, but that wouldn't be polite.

My real concern, though, was with the challenge itself - the clearly unresearched and erroneous assertion - and what he would do once his misstatement was corrected. Mr. Kessler still doesn't acknowledge that he was wrong - either here, or on his own blog (which is frankly more important, in the end).

No, he now wants to essentially compare the size of our legal resumes, a childish pissing contest. Now, I could ask him about the about the last time he was asked to offer his expertise on issues of constitutional law, the last time he gave a speech on the role of certain individual rights in civil society, heck - the last time he lectured to a graduate-level university class about aspects of the law. I could talk about the two law firms I worked for, the legal foundation whose only out-of-DC project I founded and directed, etc, etc, etc.

But I won't. See, this all gets back to the issues I raised in my open letter to him, posted on this blog at the end of October: is he interested in substantive discussion? Does he want a meaningful dialogue? What is he trying to accomplish?

Let's get back to brass tacks, here, Mr. Kessler. You made an assertion. That assertion was wrong. It is up to you to recognize your error, and publicly account for it on your blog.

Your error has nothing to do with any animosity that might exist between you and me. That animosity is an entirely separate issue. Your error is your own, and correcting it your responsibility.

February 01, 2006 2:44 PM

Blogger The leftist southpaw said...

you boast about your major media exposure and lecturing credentials, and accuse me of "a childish pissing contest" ???

You have accomplished the next-to-impossible. Kudos. For you, sir, have renederred me speechless.

February 01, 2006 3:35 PM

Blogger Andrew Langer said...

I didn't start the pissing contest, Mr. Kessler, and for someone who supposedly takes things so literally, and who looks so intently at what is actually written, as opposed to implied, it's kind of odd how happily you ignore it when I say such things are "neither here nor there" or that I "could" do something, but I "won't".

And doing so, while still failing to address the substance of what I've said, instead desiring to focus on sniping.

There's something tremendously disappointing in that - as someone I thought I knew a long time ago, I guess I expected more. I note that you've had time to update your blog, but have still chosen to not correct your erroneous assertion.

Comparing resumes is a ridiculous exercise - you worked for a handgun-control group, the Psychologists' lobby, Sen. Lieberman, and now for the substance abuse conselors. You have a JD.

I've got a masters', worked for two law firms, ran a legal foundation's project, worked for a free-market think tank, and now lobby for the nation's largest small business trade association.

In the end, none of that means anything with regards to whether or not liberal commentators ever say idiotic and ill-conceived things on par with what Ann Coulter said. None of that means anything with regards to who did what to prevent Katrina's damage or to mitigate that damage once the disaster happened.

Comparing resumes gets us nowhere. It's talking without any real meaning - and again it gets me to the question (as yet unanswered): What is it you want?

Who do you blog for, Andrew? Why do you blog?

I blog for a variety of reasons, and a variety of different audiences. I blog to organize my thoughts. I blog to let a variety of different people know about subjects they might not be hearing about in other forums. I blog because there are people out there interested in the same obscure issues that I am, and I want them to have good information. I blog because sometimes I have a different slant on something than some of my friends and colleagues and acquaintances do, and I think they ought to try seeing certain issues framed in that different way.

I blog for my friends, I blog for acquaintances, I blog for stangers who are interested in freedom and entrepreneurship and the stuggle for liberty.

I blog to stimulate discussion - real, meaningful discussion of issues.

And yes, I do blog to let people know about something that might be going on with my life - and to give them the occasional recipe.

And if I make a mistake, and that mistake is pointed out to me, then I correct it. As quickly as possible, too. God forbid that someone uses something I've said as a reference, and it's wrong (and folks have referred people to my blog for information on subjects, like eminent domain and property rights generally).

I'll be honest with you, Andrew. I hesitated mightily before offering my response to your assertion regarding liberal commentators. Having been down this road with you twice in the last year, I had an inkling as to what my comments might spur.

But call it the optimist in me, I thought that I maybe I could offer that information, contained in a post with my slant on speech issues, and that maybe you would behave differently.

In that I was wrong - and to the readers of the Liberty Blog, I apologize for my error.

February 01, 2006 5:40 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. Langer: Regarding your characterization of Randi Rhodes comments as a threat on the life of the President, clearly they were not, or the Secret Service would have, at a bare minimum, had a conversation with her, which would of course made her a martyr. Which she ain't.

Likewise, Al Franken's comment that anybody who's literally committed treason by revealing the identity of an undercover operative should be executed by a court of law isn't a threat either; it's either a carefully reasoned legal analysis or more gibberish from a guy who was never all that funny to start with and is even less funny now.

But Coulter's comment puts her not just in a different ballpark, but in a different solar system, and it's astounding that you and your knuckle dragging fellow travellers won't concede that she crossed the line on this one. Coulter has been a damn crypto fascist for some time, but she's never actually called for her rabid cadre to do murder before. Even Rush never got that stoned.

February 01, 2006 7:44 PM

Blogger Andrew Langer said...

Is this a new anon? Or an old anon? In any case, welcome to the blog.

To respond:

A) Mr. Kessler wasn't limiting his request for examples to those liberal commentators who called for assassination. He specifically said he was looking for, "proof that any of these people [liberal commentators] ever called for, or even joked about, the death of a Republican."

Ms. Rhodes' comments clearly fall into that category.

Likewise do Mr. Franken's. (and Julianne Malveaux's, for that matter). Franken wasn't offering a reasoned legal analysis, he was making a joke - which is what Mr. Kessler was asking about. And Julianne Malveaux's comments were very much in line with what Ann Coulter was saying.

B) I wasn't aware that Ann Coulter had been or is being investigated by the Secret Service for her remarks, though Mr. Kessler isn't the only one calling for them (or the FBI) to do it.

Likewise, as I recall there was some question over whether or not the feds had done a perfunctory investigation of either of Randi Rhodes' remarks. Some outlets reported it, and Air America denied it. The story then died (as it should have).

C) I don't see how I could have made my condemnation of Ms. Coulter's remarks more clear. I said I'm not a fan, called them deplorable, characterized them as idiotic, etc, etc. I think I made it fairly clear, over and over again, in fact.

In fact I said, quite clearly, "I preface my thoughts by saying that I absolutely deplore and condemn the statements made by Coulter."

Do I think she crossed a line? Absolutely, in the same way that Rhodes crossed the line (saying that someone's family ought to brutally murder them is a bit over the top, don't you think?).

Do I think there is an actual threat posed by her remarks? Absolutely not.

But in the end, I was answering within the (somewhat vague) parameters of Mr. Kessler's request.

Thanks for stopping by, Anon. Please feel free to identify yourself - I want people to know that they are safe to speak their minds no matter who they are.

February 02, 2006 10:06 AM

Anonymous John Alexander said...

Female Republican "Strategist's

All of these so-called republican women strategists, who show up on Fox Noise or on conservative talk radio are all the same. They are all cut out of the same snide cookie cutter. They all look alike (real blonde or dye job), talk alike and are true right wing conservative loons. Anyone who basis the world view on what these bimbos proclaims in the name of fact is a fool. I think they are from the same sorority, Alpha Bitch Omega. I mean come on, Herbert Hoover's great granddaughter or may she is just great (or thinks she is). That is a real heritage I want to hear from. If they are so smart they should all run for office but then all of the country would see who they really are, right?

November 21, 2007 4:55 PM

Blogger Andrew Langer said...

OK, so now feel free to point out how any of the lefty Democratic women talking heads are any different than one another....

Because I'll tell ya, and I do like to listen to far, far left talk radio, that a awful lot of the people I hear seem to be parroting the same "party-line" mantra...

November 24, 2007 3:06 PM


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