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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

John McCain's Indecent Double Standard

Well, the Republicans are at it again - cursing out Senators in the halls of government. At least this time, it was a Republican cursing out a Republican.

You may recall that, a few years ago, the Senate hallway featured VP Dick Cheney advising Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), "Go fuck yourself!"

And now, the other day, John McCain, a leading Republican Presidential candidate in polls not taken via texting on cell phones, said "Fuck you!" to Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas), over a disagreement about immigration policy.

Now, as I've made clear numerous times - see my Of Asterisks, Black Swans, Thom Yorke, and D*ck - I have no problem at all with such language. Whether in private or in public, vulgarity and profanity serve a social purpose. They allow us to express anger without resorting to violence.

What I do have is a very serious problem with Senators cursing each other out like this a day or a month or a year after voting to increase fines for broadcasting of such very language. Actually, it's worse than that: last year the Senate approved an increase in fines from $32,500 to $325,000 for objectionable incidents on the airwaves, which, although (of course) not specifically defined, in practice include words that are a lot milder than "fuck". Infinity Broadcasting had already been socked for millions of dollars for Howard Stern's non-profane language under the old, lower fine system.

And - here's the kicker - John McCain was one of the co-sponsors of that Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act of 2005 - the Act that raised the fines - which was passed by unanimous consent in the Senate on May 18, 2006. The bill was introduced by Senator Brownback (one of the three Republicans now running for President who doesn't believe in evolution), and had many co-sponsors, including Joseph Lieberman, the Democratic Senator from Connecticut. Trampling the First Amendment has broad bipartisan support. The bill had fared only slightly worse in the House, where Representatives Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich - both now running for President in their respective parties - had the constitutional decency to vote against it (but it passed 389 Aye, 38 No, 6 not voting). Ron Paul was the only Republican voting no.

So, this is the country in which we now live. Hypocritical Senators can use the F-bomb - what a stupid construction, they can say Fuck You or Go Fuck Yourself - whenever they please. But a comedian on radio such as Howard Stern can get fined into oblivion for making fart jokes and the like. And, with the latest round of Federal treachery against the First Amendment, Congress is moving to extend its system of fines for objectionable broadcasting to cable....

Fucking outrageous.

Following comments made on original PaulLevinson.net post - feel free to add yours here, any time.

One of the nice things about Canadian TV is the fact that things are a little more free... especially about swearing.
Posted by: MC at May 21, 2007 01:42 AM
Nice ending! HA!
Your country is "land of the free" if I'm correct but there seems to be a lot of arbitrary restrictions on art yet a group of "Christians" can protest outside of funerals of dead soldiers.
Don't get me wrong, I think they SHOULD be allowed to protest but only if you're allowed to swear on air. Equal is equal is equal.
Posted by: rizzo at May 21, 2007 05:15 AM

I love that there are 3 ads paid for by McCain on this page!
Posted by: Brian at May 21, 2007 01:54 PM

So, we draw no distinction between swearing in the course of private conversations, and swearing over public airwaves?
Where does that slippery slope end?
If little Jimmy with the telescope next door peeks in on one of my daughters changing, does that mean it's OK to air girls undressing on public TV as well?
Lame argument, people!
Posted by: pronouncedlimp at May 21, 2007 01:58 PM

I fucking agree.
The one thing I find amusing is that google is serving three John McCain ads on this page right now (plus a you tube ad for John McCain videos...one of them a big red white and blue banner at the top of the page. Hmmm.
Posted by: Joel at May 21, 2007 02:28 PM

pronounced: Of course there are distinctions in all of these situations. But, via McCain's logic, the media can't even report, literally, what he said to the other Senator. If he wants the media not to use those words, then he, as a public figure, shouldn't use them in either, in a public place.
Posted by: Paul Levinson at May 21, 2007 02:34 PM

So, what do we have: the morally ambiguous, the sexually repressed, the jesus freaks and the president/vice president [they're in a league all of their own. If you can strangle the constitution and get applause for doing so, you deserve some kudos along with your impeachment papers].
What all these double standards and blatant abuses are doing is that they serve to ridicule the United States. I don't know if anybody noticed, but Kuwait has disconnected its currency from the Dollar. Other countries will follow. The lack of fiscal responsibility is going to start biting you. While the US is wasting endless amounts of time and effort debating evolution/creationism [another comedy caper] and gay marriage, the world is getting on with the serious business that we are going to have to face as a collective.
The US might like to believe it is above the mere unwashed masses but that chicken is going to come home to roost far sooner than comfortable.
Aside from that, I sincerely wish for all those who read this: peace, love, happiness and harmony. No amount of any of these is ever enough.
Posted by: Anonymous at May 21, 2007 02:58 PM

The hole in your criticism of McCain lies in the significant difference between FCC regulations and regulations regarding office communications. The FCC fines for indecency, however arbitrary, are designed to maintain standards on television above disgusting. I'm sure McCain's outburst was a slip up, and one that should be dealt with with regard to decency standards in Washington, however linking FCC communications and office conduct in my opinion does not qualify as a sound argument.
Posted by: Max at May 21, 2007 03:14 PM

I have to agree with pronouncedlimp on this one... What McCain says to another individual in a private conversation is a wholly-different situation to that of a shock-jock spouting profanity on the public airwaves.
Any child in any city CANNOT, whilst flipping through their radio dial, listen in on McCain's conversations. They can, however, inadvertently tune their radio to a station where a shock jock is broadcasting and therefore be exposed to language of which their parents may disapprove.
Not so with satellite radio where Stern now resides, but it was entirely the case with respect to the multi-million dollar lawsuit regarding his statements at his previous *public* radio station gig.
You are creating a semblance here, and a perception of a senator's personal opinion that does not exist. Senator McCain is not any more opposed to profanity than you are. He is instead opposed to the broadcasting of profanity. There is a very big difference.
Posted by: Patrick McGonegal at May 21, 2007 03:57 PM

Patrick: I understand the distinction - but see my above comment. What's your response to the fact that, under McCain's system, the public would never have any direct knowledge of one Senator cursing out another - because McCain would fine any stations that broadcast McCain's words. You don't see any problem with that?
Posted by: Paul Levinson at May 21, 2007 04:05 PM

"The FCC fines for indecency, however arbitrary, are designed to maintain standards on television above disgusting."
Cable/satellite television is not subject to FCC regulations (under my understanding), so what keeps its standards up? Advertising. The free market is self regulating.
Posted by: AbsurdParadox at May 21, 2007 04:23 PM

Brian - yeah, about the McCain (and all the political) ads on this page ... Welcome to automated "smart" ad placement! :)
Posted by: Paul Levinson at May 21, 2007 04:59 PM

Sadly, a lot of individuals will read this piece and add it to their list of other non-arguments they haven't applied simple critical thinking to themselves.
Posted by: DM at May 21, 2007 05:16 PM

Excellent commentary
So, on one side you have a hypocritical typical politician who cares about big money and big government and doesn't care about principled positions or the truth.
On the other, you have Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich, who take principled positions on everything yet are called crazed lunatics for doing so and made fun of at every opportunity.
What's the problem here, America?
Posted by: Lloyd at May 21, 2007 07:07 PM

Paul -
I won't comment on the hypocrisy or inconsistency of a politician, particularly McCain, who'd sell his children for the top office.
The suggestion, however - subtle as it may be, and perhaps unintentional or subconsciously woven into the piece - that this is a GOP phenomenon, is misplaced. The attacks on our freedom of speech are bipartisan, and the blame lies with us.
A fat swath of the dim middle of this country is obsessed with "morals" and "values" we flog as queer totems of some fictional Pure American Dream that never existed. The Left and Right get together and, as a wonderful essay in this month's Vanity Fair notes, ensure we export our greatest resource - hypocrisy.
But we're alright in the end. The marketplace wants the honesty and the dirt, and no matter how many Senators grandstand for bigger fines, or how many scalps the Sharptons of the world collect, somebody will Give the People What They Want because it's profitable.
Best,
PL
Posted by: philalawyer at May 22, 2007 12:17 AM

When it comes to the rude and the crude I wouldn't shrivel up in disappointment if we would give it a rest. Hmmm....maybe we should go back to the days when if you called someone a liar you had better have your hand on your pistol. Probably made for a politer society.... grins.
Posted by: George at May 22, 2007 12:21 AM

Hypocrisy and politics are all-american bedfellows. A vote for the Hillary Clinton camp or a vote for the John McCain camp is the nearly the same thing. The only difference is that the Clinton camp might wear a condon when they anally rape you and your constitutional rights.
It was a Democrat, KS Senator Exon, that proposed the Communications Decency Act in the Telecommunications Reform Act. It was the Clinton administration that signed it into law over ten years ago.
Now, a Republican-led FCC, is doing what it feels like doing. It's no big revelation that they would act to limit individual rights in favor of corporate interests. The Bush administration does what it does because it can.
The corporate media in the U.S. makes billions on political activity in the little squabbles between Democrats and Republicans. You get to watch it every night as they form the questions in any debate.
We, as citizens, either eat our scraps of bread and watch the circus or we can change it with our vote. If enough people simply voted for any third party candidate, it could change the system. Complaining is no longer sufficient. You must vote.
Posted by: John Furie Zacharias at May 22, 2007 08:19 AM

Phila Lawyer:
me: "Trampling the First Amendment has broad bipartisan support."
you: "The suggestion, however - subtle as it may be, and perhaps unintentional or subconsciously woven into the piece - that this is a GOP phenomenon, is misplaced."
Yeah, it was so subtle, that I expressed denied it, in plain English...:)
Posted by: Paul Levinson at May 22, 2007 01:56 PM

The fact that hasn't really come up yet and is so interesting in this case is that generally something is only obscene in the eyes of the FCC if someone complains. That's why a few years ago 1/3 of the ABC affiliates refused to show Saving Private Ryan uncut on Memorial Day, despite the fact that they had done so the two years prior... because the FCC basically told these stations that they couldn't tell them if such a showing would result in fines or not, so in essence, the FCC is using an arbitrary standard for what is and is not broadcast worthy.
Posted by: MC at May 22, 2007 03:14 PM
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