Thursday, May 5, 2011

Patriotic Correctness Run Amok

One of the Cardinal Rules of Blogging, I was told, is that you should never, ever blog about politics (unless, of course, it's a political blog) or religion (unless, of course, it's a religious blog), lest you risk offending portions of your audience.

It appears that I am about to kill two cardinals with one stone.

The self-righteous outrage over Rashard Mendenhall's reaction to the celebrations of Osama Bin Laden's death has pushed me over the edge.

According to ESPN, Mendenhall tweeted (in part) shortly after news of Bin Laden's death was announced: "What kind of person celebrates death? It's amazing how people can HATE a man they have never even heard speak. We've only heard one side... I believe in God. I believe we're ALL his children. And I believe HE is the ONE and ONLY judge. Those who judge others, will also be judged themselves. For those of you who said you want to see Bin Laden burn ... I ask how would God feel about your heart?"

Mendenhall's tweets set off a storm of controversy that ultimately led the Steelers' team President Art Rooney II (the son of Dan Rooney, former Steelers' President, noted Democratic benefactor, and now Ambassador to Ireland) to issue the following statement: "I have not spoken with Rashard, so it is hard to explain or even comprehend what he meant with his recent Twitter comments. The entire Steelers organization is very proud of the job our military personnel have done and we can only hope this leads to our troops coming home soon."

I do not agree with all of Mendenhall's thoughts (particularly the "we'll never know what really happened" comment about the World Trade Center attacks), but it isn't very difficult to "explain or even comprehend what he meant" by most of his tweet. He was disturbed by the jingoistic bacchanalia related to news of Bin Laden's death.

In this day of Patriotic Correctness, however, freedom of expression is not a two-way street.

Nothing in Mendenhall's tweets, at least what I've read or seen, questioned our troops, the "job [they've] done," or whether he wants our troops to come home (as one can assume from the context he does). His target was the revelers, not the cause of the revelry. And his religious references might just make one think he has a point, both about the celebration of another's demise as well as whether anyone should cast the first stone.

The reaction to Mendenhall's comments, particularly by the Steelers, called to my mind the incessant American flag lapel pin criticism of President Obama. The Patriotically Correct, you'll surely recall, highlighted then candidate Obama's failure to wear a flag lapel pin, fashionable since 9/11, as proof of his supposed unpatriotic/anti-American attitude. While he explained that he felt that the pin had become a "substitute for true patriotism," ultimately he succumbed to the political pressure and started wearing it again.

At least he wasn't popping out of a tank . . .
Sadly, Mendenhall seems to have caved in to the same sort of pressure, issuing a clarification of his tweets. There is nothing in the retweet that is radically different from the thoughts that Mendenhall expressed, although he felt obliged to make it clear that he is and was not a Bin Laden supporter.

More troubling to me than Mendenhall's tweet are the reactions by some members of the public, the media, and the Steelers to the comments. Or perhaps better put, the lack of reactions to those reactions.

We live in an age when we allow a vocal, strident minority to constantly evaluate and pass judgment on what is and is not patriotic behavior. The silent majority has grown weary of the constant sniping regarding flag and country and has decided, as I often have, that getting involved in the debate isn't worth the price (being called anti-American oneself, subjecting oneself to similar vitriol) to fight the good fight.

Enough is enough.

Evelyn Beatrice Hall paraphrased Voltaire's thoughts in the famous, succinct phrase: "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." In our age of Patriotic Correctness, we no longer risk death, or even character assassination, to defend the right to say what one thinks at the risk that it may be construed by some as unpatriotic. Instead, we stand silently by as a few who have wrapped themselves in the flag and assumed the mantle of arbiters of all that is or is not "American" decide how to attack the free speech of others.

Whether we should even care what a professional athlete thinks about politics or religion is, of course, a valid question (just as easily, whether anyone should care what a blogging lawyer/soccer coach thinks about anything is equally valid). But being concerned about the right to say something is very different than caring about what is said. The freedom of expression has been slowly chipped away at for 10 years, not by our government as was long ago feared, but rather by the tyranny of the minority, primarily and ironically through the vehicles of the media, blogging, and social media.

Rashard, keep on telling us how you feel. I wasn't listening before. But from now on I'll defend to the death your right to speak, and my right to listen to what you have to say.


  1. Kevin,
    I have to agree with you. I happen to be a Steelers fan, so I was interested in the furor over Rashard Mendenhall's tweets; but I'm a pastor first, and I find it very difficult to celebrate any death, no matter how vile the man.
    Alan Trafford. Deep in the heart of Texas (as they say).

  2. Thanks for commenting Alan. I understand where the revelers were coming from -- particularly those who grew up in the late 1990's and early "oughts" -- the 9/11 attacks are the seminal moments in their lives, just as the deaths of John and Bobby Kennedy are in mine. I don't have a point on my moral compass (and would be very concerned if my pastor did) that has that kind of joy over another's demise, but can see that others might. The fact that Mendenhall expressed his concerns and was excoriated for it is, however, deeply troubling to me.