Talk Newspaper: Last week I laid out the danger I see when DMV officials who issue personalized license plates set themselves up as the message police.
Last week I laid out the danger I see when DMV officials who issue personalized license plates set themselves up as the message police. "If we're going to start filtering allowable expression according to what's objectionable," I wrote, "then the people in charge better get cracking. Because I object to 6 miles-per-gallon civilianized military vehicles cruising to the 7-11 and back home for a dozen eggs and a six pack of beer. I object to the wearing of American flag lapel pins by public figures who've taken our country to bloody, bankrupting wars, and who've helped the few amass great wealth at the expense of the many. I object to the relentless advertising of food and beverages that trash our kids' health. I object to the sudden roar of a snowmobile when I'm cross-country skiing deep in the forest. I object to the toxins that Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage inject into the national bloodstream on a daily basis. And I object when a committee in Salem turns thumbs down on vanity license plates that they suspect might cause someone somewhere some heartburn."
That triggered a long annoyed online comment (which in turn triggered dozens more), most of which I lay out below in italics, separated by my thoughts in regular type. I'm not trying to rack up debate points here — when you're the talk show host or columnist, the guy with the last word, it's unfairly easy to do that. But I do want to continue exploring the working theory, quaint and a little naive in the mind of my harder-nosed friends, that two thinking people who keep talking will find some places to agree.
For once in your life, sack up and take a stand on something, this commenter writes. Tell us all why people shouldn't have the right to drive what they want, wherever it is they want to go, and buy as much, or as little, as they care to buy. Tell us why it's not acceptable for people to ride their snowmobiles. Explain what's wrong with people trying to market products you don't want to buy. In fact the column's main point was pretty much like yours: People have the right to do a lot of things that bug me, and vice versa. That's one dimension of our constitutional freedoms. Balancing that, though, I see some community rights — to climate stability, to vital healthy younger generations, to conserving oil as a bridge to the next Energy Age — that routinely get flattened by our fixation with My Rights, My Liberties, My Choice.
When I see someone waving a flag, or a politician wearing a lapel pin of a flag, that tells me it's someone that believes in this country, and is someone who will fight to uphold the values that made this country so great. I admit wondering here if I was dealing with Ashland's Steven Colbert. Assuming the comment's serious, I'll just suggest that a flag lapel pin says clearly that its wearer claims to be a patriot and nothing at all about whether s/he actually is.
What is so toxic about someone like Rush Limbaugh telling people what's going on in our government, and what effects their decision will have on our lives? Is it because you don't like what he has to say, so he shouldn't have the right to voice his opinion, or is it because he backs all of his positions with facts, and that leaves you no viable defense against his arguments? Way more to say here than space allows. In my experience, Rush is committed not to facts so much as to enraging some Americans against others, which sets him apart from people I read with respectful disagreement: Rich Lowery, David Brooks, Charles Krauthammer, sometimes George Will.
One more thing: I getting so tired of that same, old, asinine, cliche, that somehow, people who have, acquire what they have at the expense of those that have not. Those that have, is because someone worked hard for their achievements. Which old asinine people are you quoting? The ones I know understand that some wealthy people work extremely hard and some don't. Same with poor people. Are you okay with an economic order that pays some people seven- and eight-figure salaries for moving paper assets from one fund to another with a few keystrokes each day, while millions of others working two to three jobs are choosing among rent, food and medicine at the end of the month? Some of us aren't.
I don't want to leave out another online comment that did aim directly at my irritation with DMV censorship, and did it well: A license plate isn't the same as other forms of free speech. The licensee is using something issued by the state to make the statement. Oregonians would not only be allowing him to say what he wants to say, they'd be helping him. We shouldn't have to do that.
Jeff Golden is the author of "Forest Blood," "As If We Were Grownups" and the novel "Unafraid," with excerpts available at www.unafraidthebook.com.