Friday, September 08, 2006

HR 214: Lest We Forget

A commentator was kind enough to share with DU the explanatory letter he received from Representative Gino Polidori regarding his sponsorship in the Michigan House of HR 214, a resolution “expressing opposition to a recent Detroit News editor's opinion piece labeling all Palestinians as terrorists.” Look for HR 214 at

What the resolution is referring to is a February 5, 2006 editorial in the Detroit News in which Nolan Finley wrote his opinion that “"Palestinians' lust for Jewish blood is stronger than their desire for peace.’"

Now to me, the statement that Palestinians lust for Jewish blood at the cost of peace is as self-evident as if one were to say, “Poodles' lust for squirrels' blood is stronegr than their fear of traffic." To my even greater amazement, the drafters of HR 214 tried to offset the calumny that Palestinians are violent, (never!) by a reference to “history dating back to the Old Testament,” as if that’s going to clear things up. Apparently the drafters believe that Goliath—when he wasn’t loudly cursing the armies of Israel—was nothing more than a freedom-fighter who fell victim to that sawed-off little shepherd boy, David. I do believe now I remember reading some apocryphal scriptures quoting the Philistine commander admitting he hadn’t anticipated the Israelites would react so harshly to their minor cross-border incursion.

Anyway, I’m glad to see Rep. Polidori’s response now. Though I am a constituent, I didn’t receive a copy of Rep. Polidori’s letter when I asked for an explanation.

The lawmaker wrote as follows:

Regarding the issue of HR 214, I would like to explain my position. I respect people of all cultures and oppose any generalizations which discriminates against a group of people. Free speech is a national right which we must respect, even if we do not agree.

HR 214 does nothing except express opposition to what was said in the opinion piece. As legislators, we also have a right to free speech. This resolution is an expression of our support for free speech yet against discriminating opinions. While we must respect Mr. Finley's right to free speech, we must also recognize that we endure this same right.

I appreciate your support for me in the past and hope that I was able to make my reasoning clear. If you have any further questions or comments please do not hesitate to contact my office.

Gino H. Polidori State RepresentativeDistrict 15

(Love that slip, "endure the same right." We miss you, Freud.) According to Rep. Polidori’s letter, HR 214 is not an attack on Finley’s free-speech rights, nor on the free-press rights of the News, because he's just expressing his opinion, right?

Of course Rep. Polidori and his cohorts in the Legislature have free speech rights, as all citizens do. That’s not the point. The point is whether the Legislature has the right to censure an individual’s free speech. I can’t believe this is even something that needs to be considered by informed citizens, because of course the Legislature doesn’t have that right! The problem is, HR 214 isn’t drafted in the name of Reps. Polidori, Lemmons, or the rest, but in the name of the Michigan House of Representatives, and holds itself out to speak for the State itself. You, me, the whole political entity. It’s one thing to sound off as a private citizen, to say something in an interview, or even to submit a written opinion piece of his own to the Detroit News. But it’s quite something else for the state government to do it. Resolutions aren’t for denouncing editorial opinions that a minority, or even a majority, of constituents don’t like. To quote from the Michigan Legislature’s own website, a resolution expresses

… the will of the House or the Senate (or both, in the case of concurrent resolutions). Resolutions are used to urge state agencies or the Congress to take certain actions; to formally approve certain plans of governmental agencies; to conduct certain legislative business; or to establish study committees to examine issues. Some resolutions are also offered by members as an expression of congratulations, commemoration or tribute to an individual or group.

Notice there’s no language in there about resolutions expressing the opinions of individual legislators. Resolutions aren't the legislators' public letter box. That’s because a legislative resolution is an act of government will. True, it doesn’t have the force of law, something I’m confident the real sponsors of this monstrosity are genuinely regretful about. But if you read the text of HR 214, you’ll notice that it’s been referred to the Government Operations committee. Why? Because HR 214 is a Government Operation – a government operation to shut Nolan Finley up.

Nor, in spite of Rep. Polidori’s claim in his letter, is HR 214 “an expression of our support for free speech.” This is just not true. HR 214 doesn’t contain one syllable about free speech. What it does contain is all kinds of free-speech chilling language like “malicious view,” “hate-filled backlash of violence,” “malicious statements,” and “fan the flames of intolerance and bigotry.” This kind of writing has the stink of something steamed up from the cauldrons of CAAO, ADC, and CAIR activists, all of whom are champions of government-sponsored censorship when it comes to the subject of Muslims.

I almost wonder if Rep. Polidori even read HR 214. If he did, he had no business writing what he did in his explanatory letter. I mean, I have no idea what Rep. Polidori could have been thinking when he says the equivalent of, “Finley gets to say something, now it’s the State lawmaker's turn.” The whole point about freedom of speech and press is that the individual and the newspapers enjoy rights of free expression the government simply doesn’t have. If I talk it’s fair for you to talk back. Fine. But if I talk it isn’t fair for the government to talk back. In fact, it’s kind of a discouragement to me talking, which is the whole point of the First Amendment. When an individual expresses an opinion with his weak, individual voice, that doesn’t make it government’s turn to reply with the full force of the government, just because that sounds “fair.” When some disgusted Britisher mentioned in a tavern that King George was a pear-shaped whoreson, the government reply was quite likely to come in the form of some type of cruel and unusual punishment. That’s how governments talk: if not always by force, the threat of force is always present. That's why it's called the government. So maybe HR 214 doesn’t have the force of law—but it’s a good start. The First Amendment was precisely intended to take away from government the right to use the blunt force of government to respond to free opinion from its citizens.

But blunt force is exactly what HR 214 has in mind, using the apparatus of government to punish speech its sponsors don’t like. Not that the sponsors are kidding anyone: they don’t speak for the people of Michigan at all, but for a handful of activists who will hound them with political activism if they don’t. But it’s ludicrous for Rep. Polidori to say HR 214 is nothing more than him, or Lemmons, Jr., or the other sponsors, innocently exercising their First Amendment right to speak.

The resolution itself holds itself out to be speaking on behalf of the State of Michigan, as is made clear in the clause saying, “Whereas, A state that prides itself on the diversity of its people should speak out against statements that foster hatred and intolerance.”

Think about that. The state should speak out against statements it doesn’t like? The state speaking out is no novelty in itself, as witness Iran, Cuba, Egypt, the Soviet Union, the Third Reich, and on and on. But Government forcefully expressing its views is supposed to be a novelty here in the USA. Here in the USA, we cherish the idea, which politicians used to have at least a general acquaintance with, that the people can express opinions freely only when the government is bound by law to keep its big official mouth shut. HR 214 is the marriage of repressive Islamism and liberal thought at its best. It doesn’t just stop you from saying things, it aims to stop you from even thinking them.

Let’s hope the novelty behind HR 214 remains a novelty, and is recognized for the stupid unlawful blunder that it is. I am extremely disappointed that any American lawmaker would put his name on such a thing.

To the credit of the full Michigan House, this baby has been bottled up in committee since March, and will probably die there, never to embarrass its sponsors again. But if anyone owes an apology, it isn’t Finley and the News, it’s the people who tried to foist this blatant censorship on all of us.

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