From time to time, conservatives like myself become irritated with comedians like Jon Stewart who occasionally make truly offensive remarks, then play the “Hey, I’m a comedian” card to deflect criticism away from what they said. I do believe that as a rule of thumb, the rhetoric of people who make audiences laugh for a living probably should be taken less seriously than that of other public figures. Still, there are times when the lines of civility are so vilely crossed that the “Hey, I’m a comedian” defense just doesn’t wash. If you’d like some of the more notable examples, simply do a Google search on Bill Maher and Sarah Palin, or David Letterman and Sarah Palin, or Louis CK and Sarah Palin, or any other liberal comedian who has let their derangement with Mrs. Palin morph from humor into downright deviancy.
Comedy isn’t the only fuzzy area out there when it comes to evaluating whether or not rhetoric is genuinely over the top. Another realm sometimes worthy of critique is that of the metaphor. Metaphors are typically mundane – an easy way of presenting a point in perspective. And yes, they’re sometimes prone to silly, disingenuous intrepretation at the expense of the people who use them. We see this sort of reaction in the world of politics all the time, where people accuse ideological opponents of making outrageous statements when in reality, they’re merely using a metaphor to make a contextual point.
One of my favorite examples of this came right after a speech former Democratic Senator Zell Miller delivered in 2004. Miller broke ranks with his party and spoke at the Republican National Convention in support of then president, George W. Bush. The speech was comprised of stinging criticisms that Miller directed at Bush’s opponent, Senator John Kerry, for Kerry’s numerous attempts to cut military spending. After Miller listed all of the weapon systems Kerry had voted against, he said, “This is the man who wants to be the commander in chief of the U.S. armed forces? U.S. forces armed with what, spit balls?”
Later that night, Miller appeared on MSNBC where he was interviewed by Hardball host, Chris Matthews. In one of the goofy on-air statements that Matthews has become known for, he asked Miller multiple times if he believed, “truthfully, that John Kerry wants to defend the country with spit balls.” The insinuation, of course, was that Miller was a crack-pot.
Miller angrily blasted Matthews for the game he was playing, and even challenged the host to a duel over the feigned ignorance he was displaying toward a remark that clearly wasn’t meant to be taken literally. It was an entertaining segment to say the least.
A more malicious example came in the wake of the Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords shooting in Tucson, Arizona. The liberal media repeatedly tried to tie Sarah Palin to the violence by pointing out her metaphorical and symbolic use of the commonly-used term, targeted districts, which was featured on one of Palin’s websites. The website included Giffords’ district on a map of the United States with a cross-hairs symbol over it. Somehow, in the minds of the media elite, that was enough evidence to suggest that Palin might have been a motivational co-conspirator to the shooter – an assertion that was nothing short of asinine.
With all of that being said, there is indeed a line that can be crossed when using metaphors, much in the same way that comedians can cross a line when they interchange humor with vile social commentary. And when that happens, it’s not wrong for people to take exception and react seriously to such rhetoric.
I believe that rock star, Ted Nugent, crossed that line with comments he made recently about President Obama.
A fierce Second Amendment advocate, Nugent was speaking at the National Rifle Association last weekend when he made the following remarks regarding President Obama’s 2008 election victory: “It isn’t the enemy that ruined America. It’s good people who bent over and let the enemy in. If the coyote’s in your living room pissing on your couch, it’s not the coyote’s fault. It’s your fault for not shooting him.” He also stated, “If Barack Obama becomes the president in November, I will either be dead or in jail by this time next year.”
The incident got the attention of the Secret Service who opened an investigation into Nugent, much to the anger of many conservatives who are standing behind the rock star and declaring the investigation to be politically-motivated.
I’m not one of those people. Nugent was wrong in saying what he did.
My opinion certainly doesn’t stem from anything personal. I’m a fan of Ted Nugent’s work. I think Stranglehold is one of the coolest sounding Rock anthems ever. When I was a teenager, I caught one of his guitar picks that he threw out to the crowd at a Damn Yankees concert, and I rubbed it in my friends’ faces for the rest of the night.
I think it’s important in situations like the Nugent incident that people use the The Mirror Test and ask themselves if they’d feel differently if the situation was reversed. For the conservatives who are backing Nugent, how would you feel if it was Bruce Springsteen who made these same comments regarding President George W. Bush? Be honest.
Now, I don’t believe for a second that Ted Nugent poses any kind of physical threat to the president, but I do believe that the Secret Service has an obligation to investigate potentially dangerous rhetoric targeted at the President of the United States. In my opinion, comparing the president to an animal being shot, even in a metaphorical context, should send up a red flag. And by adding that he’ll either be “dead or in jail” if the president is re-elected, without clearly elaborating on his meaning, Nugent pretty much invited an investigation upon himself. He doesn’t get to play the metaphor card on this one.
I don’t see the investigation as politically-motivated in any way. The Secret Service has a very difficult job to do. Their longstanding history of looking into violent rhetoric obviously supersedes the Obama administration.
In the end, I’m sure the “investigation” will amount to little more than an amicable conversation between the Secret Service and Ted Nugent. The incident itself, however, has become political ammunition for liberals to paint Obama’s opposition, once again, as gun-toting, irrational extremists who are fueling hatred against our president.
If Ted Nugent truly believes that the key to preserving our country’s freedom is to unseat Obama in November, which I have no doubt that he does, he should choose his words more carefully. The ones he chose last weekend only hurt that cause.