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“Bush Lied – They Died” T-Shirts and Free Speech

I wanted to call this post “A Salute to Richard Marmor.” Who is Richard Marmor? Nobody really. I don’t say that in an insulting way… he’s, as far as I can tell, just another one of us regular guys (well, and a TRUE Patriot). How did he hit my radar? He wrote a letter to the editor of the Arizona Republic regarding an issue I previously posted about — The unconstitutional Arizona law that seeks to suppress the political speech rights of a T-shirt maker. The t-shirts use the names of dead servicemen along with the slogan “Bush Lied – They Died.”

Whether you agree with that sentiment or not, you can not deny that this is core political speech. So why did the Arizona legislature pass this blatantly unconstitutional law? 1) To pander to the crowd that says “if you oppose Bush, you hate the troops.” 2) The powerful always wish for the rest of us to just shut up, pay our taxes, and go to work.

Social and political change is bad for those who already have political and economic power. The Achilles heel of the cause of freedom is that it can’t fight by the same rules as the cause of dictatorship. You can’t assassinate or imprison your way to freedom — you can only achieve it through winning the war of ideas. The bullets and bombs in that war are composed of expression.

Think of the scene in Casablanca, when Victor Laslo inspires the crowd to sing La Marseillaise to drown out the nazis… watch how Strasser reacts:


This scene may take place in Morocco, involving the Germans and the French, but come on… this is an American classic. Can you think of any greater demonstration of what Free Speech is all about? There is bad speech (the nazis) and good speech (the French), and in the marketplace of ideas, the better idea wins out! Of course, then the nasty little despot gets involved.

The parallel is easy to draw. Strasser/Hitler/Vichy and Bush/Cheney/Rove have their troops, their guns, and even their legal authority. Those who cherish freedom have ideas, words, expression… We can’t take their guns away, but if we are not vigilant, they can take our right to free speech from us. But, we will need to sleep or consent in order for them to prevail.

Sending American troops to their deaths is acceptable. Who would argue that those who died at Iwo Jima did not die for something great? In fact, most of us say that we would gladly rush into the breech in order to defend our freedom. But, when a filthy little toad like George Bush lies to us and kills thousands of our own troops for a lie — that lie needs to be exposed. But, such exposure threatens his agenda. With every day that passes, more Americans awake and say “what in the hell did they do to our country?” T-shirts like this act as alarm clocks… waking up more and more of us.

Of course, Bush has his toadies in every corner of our once-great nation. I say “once great” because this administration has, with Tarquin-esque avarice reduced us to a shell of what we once were. No matter… if Europe could recover from six years of nazi occupation, we can recover from eight years of neo-con rule. We will be great again.

But back to the Bush toadies — that 28% of the population who still give him a favorable rating. They don’t want his power threatened, because it is directly connected to their own. Free speech is the greatest threat to this administration, because when we speak of its illegal, unconstitutional, immoral, and unethical actions, we blow wind on the fires of change. Therefore, the neo-cons/neo-fascists focus their cross hairs on our free speech. Shut down Rick’s Cafe at once!

I don’t know Mr. Marmor’s view on the war. I don’t care what it is. I support pro-war speech as much as I support anti-war speech. I support pro-Bush speech as much as I support anti-Bush speech. I have confidence enough in my beliefs that I know that they can stand in opposition to the beliefs of others. It may take time, but if free expression is protected, justice will prevail.

The Republic is meaningless without a free marketplace of ideas. Many of us have forgotten that, but not Mr. Marmor. After reading this letter, I want to track down Mr. Marmor, and pin a medal on him. He, unlike many sheep in this country, understands that free speech means ALL speech… not just speech you like.

Here is Mr. Marmor’s letter — reproduced in its entirety with the utmost respect for the author.

T-shirt maker another price we pay for free speech

Regarding “T-shirt maker, Montini fail to hear ‘free speech,’ “(Letters, Thursday):

My heart went out the parent of the serviceman killed in Iraq who was enraged that a T-shirt maker would capitalize on the deaths of our sons and daughters in Iraq.

I, too, was dumbfounded that the T-shirt guy would so desecrate those names. It disgusts me, too.

I might also have agreed about efforts to silence such conduct but for an experience I had 30 years ago in Chicago. It wasn’t a grand incident. Rather, it was one was one of those quiet moments of revelation. I now understand that what the T-shirt bum did is a matter of free speech.

I was living and practicing law at the time in Chicago when a neo-Nazi group announced plans to stage a march in Skokie, Ill., a community with a large Jewish population, of which a huge percentage were then Holocaust survivors. Skokie officials denied them the permit.

David Goldberger, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, himself Jewish, represented the Nazis in a suit to obtain the parade permit. The entire community was appalled, not just at the Nazis – they are by definition appalling – but that someone would defend them!

I resented the attorney on many different levels. As a member of the community, had he no values? As an attorney, isn’t our rep bad enough as it is? And as a Jew myself, how could he stab us in the back like that?

The Nazis got the permit and, in the end, they didn’t actually march.

The representation they had received reverberated in the legal community for a long time. It was devastating for the ACLU. Thousands terminated their memberships.

The bar association sponsored a luncheon at which Goldberger was invited to speak. I went primed and ready to leap to my feet with all the indignity I could muster to tell this guy what I thought.

And then I heard him speak.

It was clear that he, too, was disgusted by his clients; he, too, believed the planet would be a better place if they weren’t on it.

But it was just as clear that he did not step up to defend them. He fought for a principle: free speech.

The test of free speech, he reminded us, is not the ability to say what we all want to hear. The test of free speech is the ability to say – and the burden of hearing – the thing no one wants to hear.

No one leaped to their feet angrily. He got a round of applause.

Some people fight for our principles with bullets whizzing past them, and some do it with words. This man, a true patriot, had put his entire career on the line to fight for an ideal.

We respond with horror when events like the Nazis marching in Skokie or the T-shirt guy capitalizing on our dead children come into our lives. We want to silence them.

But what makes us Americans is a principle much bigger and nobler and more important than either of those events. I just wish all of us – and our Legislature, which responded with a knee-jerk reaction – understood that better. – Richard Marmor,Phoenix

Other blogs on this issue:

  1. Pro Bush Lied – They Died, by Jon Katz
  2. Anti Yes…this Guy is an un-patriotic Scum Bag
  3. Anti Liberal Compassion: Selling “Bush Lied, They Died” T-Shirts With Soldier’s Names
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