galvin, rob.jpg
galvin, rob.jpg

Sometimes, free speech comes with hidden costs

It’s hard to miss.

Facing south on South Central Avenue in Medford, just as it joins South Riverside at a triangle, the billboard features an unflattering picture of a man with his mouth agape and a message that reminds us all that our election cycle takes far too much time and invades too much of our personal space:

“Rep. Greg Walden

SELLING OUT OREGON

One Vote At A Time

VOTE Him OUT”

Now, look … you might vote for Walden again this fall. You might never vote for him. Or, at this stage, you might have thrown up your arms and decided our political system has sunk to a level that’s not worthy of your participation.

Honestly, that’s your business and God bless you for even taking the time to invest some thought into how much you want to be involved in the process.

But each time I pass that billboard, all I see is that the grandstanding, no-holds-barred tactics that have swallowed whole our national discourse have hocked a loogie into our little spittoon of the world.

The billboard, you see, is sponsored and paid for by a political action committee based in our neighboring state of Maryland, and run by an ex-campaign staffer and administration flunky for a former president.

The mission of his PAC is stated on its website:

“Our goal is to remove treasonous Republican members of the House and Senate and replace them with patriotic Democrats, to impeach President Donald J. Trump and to end the NRA’s powerful influence over our political system.”

And you thought the rhetoric from the Tea Party killed a fly with a sledgehammer.

There’s one word in that bit of melodramatic tub-thumping that sticks in my craw … “treasonous.” Again, we’re all entitled to our opinions about the job performance of Rep. Walden — but to have some bloviating nincomPAC exercise its protected free speech by planting the seeds of this kind of noxious weed from 2,633 or so miles away just seems unwarranted, uncalled for and unwanted.

In other words … get off our lawn.

You might have noticed that I have exercised my rights of freedom of speech and freedom of the press by deciding not to give free advertising to the PAC or the person behind the billboard. It’s easy enough to find those details on your own — no need for naming names on my part ... besides, if you find your way to the website, you can buy an “Impeachment Now” T-shirt for your dog.

It has been a big week for the concept of freedom of speech. A high school student in Hillsboro was suspended for refusing to remove or cover up a shirt supporting the building of a Mexican border wall as he sat in a class on “People & Politics.”

The school district’s dress code prohibits “clothing decorated with illustrations, words, or phrases that are disruptive or potentially disruptive, and/or that promote superiority of one group over another.”

One person’s disruption is another person’s heartfelt belief. We might morally, ethically or legally disagree with that belief … but wouldn’t it have been better (particularly in a class designed to discuss politics) to have a discussion with the student as to why he wore the shirt than it was to initiate a series of steps that has led to a lawsuit in which the Oregon chapter of the ACLU is supporting the shirt-wearer against the school district?

Aren’t we trying (hoping, really) to get the next generation of voters involved in the political system so that they can lead us out of the swamp we keep trying to escape from by digging it deeper?

We’re already taking daily showers to cleanse our souls as a twitter-storming, foul-mouthed, irony-challenged leader of the free world — not naming names here, either — tap dances on the nuclear suitcase by canceling a summit with a longtime enemy because its leader called one of our politicians a dummy.

This from the same (unnamed) braggadocio who rewrites the Bill of Rights by admitting he purposely tries to discredit the media to influence public opinion and suggests that NFL players who don’t stand for the national anthem shouldn’t be allowed to remain in the United States — a country founded on protest against those who would control our every action.

Then again, not every muddying of the precepts of free speech comes with such a high profile. Consider the New York grocery store bakery that flagged a proud parent’s request to celebrate her graduating son’s academic achievement in icing as obscene … instead adorning his cake with “Summa - - - Laude.”

I’d say we’ve gone from the sublime to the ridiculous, but it’s getting harder to tell one from the other.

This is Memorial Day weekend, which — since the holiday’s inception in 1868 — honors those who made the ultimate sacrifice protecting our freedoms by having Americans get stuck in traffic jams … perhaps staring at billboards bought by those who stretch those freedoms to their limits.

What it means this year is that we still have more than five months before Election Day — at which point this nonsense starts anew. The best we can hope for is to be comforted by the message delivered by the dulcet tones of Igudesman & Joo ... we will survive.

Exercise your free speech by contacting Mail Tribune senior designer Robert Galvin at rgalvin@rosebudmedia.com. Or not ... it’s up to you.

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