President Obama was certainly right to be disgusted by "Reverend" Terry Jones's threat to stage a public burning of the Koran, a plan that was mean, stupid, intolerant, and spookily evocative of Hitlerian book bonfires. But I am also troubled by Obama's efforts to hector Jones into changing his mind. Everyone should worry when presidents invoke wartime security, or similar arguments, against constitutionally protected free speech, even -- or especially -- when the speech is offensive, outrageous and unpopular.
Strictly speaking, there was nothing unconstitutional about Obama's campaign, abetted by an all-star cast of national security officials, to get Jones to back off. Presidents have free speech, too. But when was the last time an American citizen got a phone call from the Secretary of Defense urging him to call off a political demonstration? Invoking his status as commander-in-chief, Obama accused Jones of, in effect, abetting America's enemies: "This kind of behavior or threats of action put our young men and women in harm's way. And it's also the best imaginable recruiting tool for al-Qaeda."
This was pretty heavy-handed use of the bully pulpit. The president seemed oblivious to the contradiction between his pressure on Jones and his view, repeated at Friday's press conference, that the U.S. must strictly follow the Constitution when prosecuting terrorism suspects -- lest the terrorists win by getting us to curtail liberty. "We can't be frightened by a handful of people who are trying to do us harm," he said. Yet to the extent Obama opposed Jones's exercise of free speech -- including mere "threats of action" -- because it might trigger a violent reaction, he was expressing, and yielding to, fear of those very "people."
Obama should have condemned what Jones wanted to do, but defended unequivocally his right to do it.
Saturday, September 11, 2010
Obama supported the rights of terrorists but not those of Terry Jones burning the Quran.
Jones said he has made his point and Via Charles Lane he points out how Obama did a piss poor job of defending America while going after Jones.