Tom Fulks

When my free speech trumps yours

Tom Fulks
Tom Fulks

‘It is by the goodness of God that in our country we have those three unspeakably precious things: freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and the prudence never to practice either of them.” — Mark Twain

It appears the only people around here allowed free speech and the right to inflict their conscience upon others are Republican hucksters, lobbyists for developers and assorted members of the madcap mob.

They are San Luis Obispo County’s self-styled Triad of Truth and the American Way. Their version of it, anyway.

And, says them, they are victims — victims of anybody who criticizes their creed and antics. If you do, you’re engaged in ridicule, persecution and the marginalization of decent Americans who’ve wrapped themselves in the flag of patriotism and reverence for the Bill of Rights, Declaration of Independence and the Magna Carta.

And by “anybody,” of course, I mean “liberals,” “socialists,” “Democrat sympathizers” and anyone who’s reasonable. If you’re one of the so stained, you apparently have no cause to object, no right to protest.

Your free speech is inferior to the Triad’s: Your rights end at their ears.

Speak against their melodramatic twaddle, your speech is labeled as “marginalizing” the public. Call attention to ideologically doctrinaire politicians who run roughshod over the wishes of constituents in favor of special interests, your speech is branded “ridicule” that dooms “common ground” between political opponents. That the Triad has never, in memory, sought common ground is irrelevant.

Apparently, however, it’s perfectly acceptable and expected for members of the Triad to insult and verbally abuse people they disagree with, to question people’s character, faith and patriotism, and to wish ill upon their persons and families.

It’s clearly God’s will to place selected “liberal” county supervisors, city council members, environmental activists, climate change believers and fact checkers at the receiving end of this kind of “free speech.” Should a “Democrat liberal” push back, it’s tantamount to shredding the Constitution, burning the American flag, assaulting democracy itself — inches shy of Bolsheviks rounding up patriotic citizens and interning them in Obama detention camps.

One unrelenting busybody a couple of months back took to the public comment period of a supervisors meeting to carp about my writing on local political dramatists, which referenced a “bloviating” lobbyist for developers. Supervisors Adam Hill and Bruce Gibson must order me to “tone it down,” the affronted blowhard demanded, because “the public” fears speaking at public meetings after being “marginalized” in print.

I don’t take orders from Hill and Gibson, and I’m not marginalizing “the public.”

The eternally malcontented marginalize themselves — the boorish, aggressive individuals who relentlessly level mean-spirited personal attacks on elected officials wrapped in ridiculous conspiracy fictions.

If these demagogues feel belittled and “chilled” by having light shone on their antics, good. If they’re embarrassed the public might learn of their detestable, disrespectful behavior toward our civic institutions and public civility, good.

Their malevolent gasbaggery is discomfiting and painful to witness. It’s far past time for decent folk to reoccupy the public square.

The right of soapbox squatters to speak is no more sacrosanct than the right to criticize what they say and how they say it.

Claiming victim is common among scoundrels when confronted with criticism. A good example is the Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business, a front group for developers masquerading as farmers.

County supervisors recently voted to follow existing law and minimally disclose some private communications regarding meeting business. Afterward, COLAB’s newsletter protested that the decision will “chill” free speech and the behavior of two sympathetic supervisors — Debbie Arnold and Lynn Compton — whom COLAB grooms each week.

Thus, COLAB is being victimized by the public knowing it meets privately with Arnold and Compton prior to every board meeting to provide “ideas and facts” about what’s on the agenda.

If COLAB feels chilled by the public knowing this, it’s easy to surmise COLAB doesn’t want the public to know what’s said. That COLAB is being victimized by public disclosure of its effort to influence public policy is nonsense.

In truth, the board’s new guidelines are tepid and don’t go nearly far enough to require disclosure of who supervisors meet and what they talk about. This is a common requisite many other local and regional jurisdictions and state agencies adhere to.

If COLAB is worried public scrutiny will “chill” dialogue between special interests and elected officials, good. That dialogue should be had in public.

Mark Twain was right: Most Americans revere free speech — their own.