Offend Anyone and Everyone But Me

Ken at Popehat makes a good point: If the state has no business policing YouTube videos that are offensive to specific religious groups, why would is be okay to prohibit burning an American flag? Many Republicans have been quick to condemn the Obama Administration for its failure to defend First Amendment principle in the wake of anti-American protests triggered by the trailer for an anti-Islam film, but the Republican platform still urges a ban on flag burning.

the ever-recurring proposal for a flag burning amendment shows that some Republicans (and some Democrats, for that matter) do believe that the government should be able to punish you for conduct causing offense to others — at least when it is the kind of offense that makes them mad.

In a way, this is banal. Both “sides” have inconsistent views. Though I credit the Democrats with largely abandoning rhetoric about due process of law so as to avoid uncomfortable conflict with their wholesale capitulation to drone strikes, the security state, “law and order,” the War on Drugs, and indefinite detention. Shutting up is often the best strategy.

Republicans could probably stand to take the Democratic lead and shut up a bit more. They still talk about curtailing government regulation of industry, allowing the free market to handle problems rather than government regulation, and federalism. Yet some still talk about things like forcing computer manufacturers to install porn filters and upping federal obscenity prosecutions — which, practically speaking, means having government agents select material produced by and marketed to consenting adults and having it shipped from one state to another state and then prosecuting based on the standard of offensiveness in the receiving state, which does not strike me as particularly federalist.

Just as both political parties are, at best, fair-weather friends of federalism, they are also fair-weather friends of freedom of speech.