February 05, 2004

Saying "Nader is a Fucktard" is not Censorship

by peterb

Lawrence Lessig has made some righteously angry observations about Ralph Nader who, in typically arrogant fashion, is going around saying stupid and wrongheaded things. Some other folks, notably Aaron Swartz are saying that Lessig is somehow "forgetting about the First Amendment." I respect Aaron, even when I disagree with him, so it's disappointing to see him making such a weak argument.

In particular, Aaron says:

As Nader said ( and Lessig obviously heard ), running for President is a First Amendment right, involving speech, press, association, and petitioning the government. And in America, we value our First Amendment rights more than the harm that they may cause.

Aaron, this argument is so bogus, dumb, and beneath you that I need to invent a new word to describe it: Squalmish. There. The argument that claiming that Nader is responsible for his actions, or asking Nader to take or not take some action somehow violates his First Amendment rights is amazingly squalmish. Incredibly squalmish. Squalmish to the point of absurdity, one might say.

Lessig doesn't need me to defend him. He does it for himself quite superbly, and I'm not even 1/16th of the lawyer that he is. But maybe I can frame the debate in more prosaic terms that explain exactly why some of have such a violent reaction to his claim of "censorship."

Nader (or any other idiot) is free to run for President, assuming he meets the Constitutional requirements, which of course he does. If the government were to outlaw his Presidential bid, that would be "censorship," of a sort. If there was a media conspiracy to not give him any air time, that would be another form of censorship, albeit not one that involved the First Amendment. Criticism, however, is not censorship. Criticism is in fact the antithesis of censorship. Nader is free to say and do what he wants, within the confines of the law. The rest of us (Lawrence Lessig, Melissa Block, or me, or anyone) are free to request that he not do so, or beg him to not do so, or to point out that by doing so he is serving the forces of darkness, or is an egotist, or is (quite simply) a fucktard.

It does not infringe on Nader's First Amendment rights to observe that he, fucktardedly, helped elect George Bush. It does not infringe on Nader's First Amendment rights for me to observe that if he does it again, he will continue to be acting like a fucktard. It is not censorship to ask, request, tell, or advise him not to run, or to criticize him when, as we all expect, he makes the wrong decision and runs anyway. The First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech. It does not, should not, and never will guarantee freedom from criticism.

Now stop being so squalmish, Aaron, and return to your usual, better, quality of argument.

Posted by peterb at February 5, 2004 08:06 PM | Bookmark This

I never said that criticizing Nader violates his First Amendment rights or is censorship, and I don't believe that. What I said was that we should not apply the tort of negligence or its reasoning to speech. Please correct your piece.

Posted by Aaron Swartz at February 5, 2004 08:25 PM

Aaron, I'll be glad to update my article if you can clarify what exactly you mean when you say Lessig was "forgetting about the First Amendment." I don't see anything about "the tort of negligence" in your article, but I see the First Amendment invoked numerous times, including at your conclusion: "And neither the people nor the First Amendment seem to stand in the way." I'm willing to believe that I'm somehow misreading your plain words, but for now I'm not sure what exactly I can correct.

Posted by Peter Berger at February 5, 2004 08:42 PM

Lessig said that we should apply the same theory of negligence Nader advocated against the Corvair to Nader's candidacy. I said that the same standards should apply because a candidacy is speech, not a product like a car.

Posted by Aaron Swartz at February 5, 2004 08:45 PM

Er sorry, should _not_ apply.

Posted by Aaron Swartz at February 5, 2004 08:45 PM

It's possible to be responsible in a moral sense ("moral responsibility") but not in a legal sense ("legal responsibility"). I think Lessig was being metaphorical, saying the same ideas of responsibility assignment which are used in legal liability, give an answer of moral responsibility with regard to Nader.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at February 5, 2004 09:16 PM

I think that's exactly right, Seth.

To take another, more legalistic tactic, I think one can argue that tort law is exactly the right sort of standard to be applying to Nader. Tort law is very much the law of commonsense -- we ask ourselves questions like "What would a reasonable personnn do?" The main higher standard of proof that one might apply would be for criminal law, and no one is suggesting that Nader go to jail, even if the image is alluring.


Posted by peterb at February 5, 2004 10:49 PM

"Squalmish." "Fucktard." Lmao. (*Learns new words today.*)

Funny post Peter (though I took most of hyperbole as tongue-in-cheek). Yes, the first amendent argument was anything but.

Posted by greg at February 6, 2004 01:09 AM

I was being moral as well. The First Amendment has as much of a moral component as tort law does. We shouldn't hold people accountable for advocating things.

Posted by Aaron Swartz at February 11, 2004 12:50 PM

We shouldn't hold people accountable for advocating things.

As an Anyone-But-Bush voter, I hold Nader voters morally accountable on one particular plane: the intelligent use of their vote. I have no problem with putative 3rd party voters in potential swingstates voting for Nader if their 2nd choice is indeed Bush, but these Nader voters who would not want to see Bush re-elected are, indeed, fucktards, and deserve approbation as such, or a similar term.

Posted by Troy at February 14, 2004 05:26 PM

I teach mentally handicapped and "cognitively disabled" students...most of them are intelligent enough to understand the cruel nature of the inferring term "tard" and, believe it or not, take it very personally(i.e., it makes them sad because they feel they have a lot to offer the world but helpless when it comes to defending themselves against people who ignorantly use this word). Please, next time use a term that denegrades a minority that is not so helpless and more apt and able to kick your ass, such as "fucknigger", "fuckdyke" "fuckkyke" "fuckchink" "fuckfaggot" "fuckredneck" "fuckinjun" "fuckgreasemonkey" "fuckhonky" ""fuckcameljockey" or my personal fav, "fuckyourself"...

Posted by Michael at February 27, 2004 07:45 PM

Somehow, saying "Nader is cognitively disabled" just doesn't have the same feeling as "Nader is a fucktard". Would you object to saying "Nader is a moron"? What if "moron" were the current offensive word used for mentally handicapped folks?

To be honest, I don't use words like "retarded" or "moron" or whatever for folks who have mental handicaps. I use them only to describe people who do not, but act as if they do. I am somewhat at a loss as to how I could say the same thing in a way that doesn't offend you, because, well--part of the goal is to offend. (Not you, but the target of the word.) "Excuse me sir, but I think that you're mentally incompetent" just isn't something you can say.

Is it demeaning to people who are mentally handicapped to use the term "retard" this way? Well, perhaps it is. I have to admit that I cringe when, say, I'm playing a game of counterstrike and there's smack talk going on like "he's so gay" and "what a fag" and "r u a joo?" I'm mainly offended because it's obvious that these folks aren't thinking about what they're saying at all.

And perhaps that's what I'm missing in your blunt statement of position--the understanding that when Pete said "fucktard", he wasn't thinking about special ed students, he was thinking "Ralph Nader is a total and complete idiot".

It may be insensitive, but it's a different kind of insensitivity from that which lead to black folk being called "nigger". There's a difference between directed hatred and disrespect that we intend to point in one direction (in this case, at Nader) and which makes other people feel belittled. It's the difference between having some 15 year old tell you "u r so gay" when you're playing a game, without half knowing what he's saying, and having someone tie you to the back of a pickup.

But at the same time--if we drop all the words in our vocabulary that might offend someone in this side-ways manner, we're pretty much going to run out of ways to be offensive when we're actively trying to be.

So tell me--what term would you have chosen to describe Nader in the above title? (What word that would carry the same connotations of unreasonable mental deficiency?)

Posted by John Prevost at February 27, 2004 08:34 PM

The word is "denigrate", spelltard.

Posted by Corey at February 27, 2004 08:41 PM

John Prevost, thanks for your thoughtful explanation.

Yea, the "retard" label really hits deep with disabled kids, plain and simple. "Moron" really isn't that offensive but it really will do in serving your point...and I DO see your point and appreciate your response; I WAS indeed offended! With that out of the way, I am inspired to add to this Nader debate. It is through debate that we'll all be better off in the end, right? I ain't no saint.

Corey, thanks for the spellcheck; you obviously got my point.


I voted for Nader in 2000 and 1996 (without regret)...

In the run-up to the 2000 Vote, I crowed plenty to my Democrat-voting peers that I would vote for Gore if he would simply do what he could to ensure Nader's appearance in a single Presidential Debate. Remember that scandal?

Some excuses at the time of the 2000 debates was "Nader doesn't belong in the debate because he's not popular enough, important enough, or doesn't have a large enough constituency, let Bush and Gore duke it out, etc.,." Obviously these excuses were wrong and this fact is supported by the seemingly millions of voters who now, since the election, blame Nader for Gores defeat. I guess you can say that Nader really was THAT important and he
should have been allowed in the debate. In principal, Pat Buchanan(Reform Party), Harry Browne(Libertarian), John Hagelin(Natural Law), and Howard Phillips(Constitution) should have been invited to debate, too.

I have loved that this year's Democratic Debates and it should
now be obvious to many that allowing more that just the FRONT RUNNERS on the stage to debate threatens absolutely nobody and actually can have a positive and energizing effect in an outcome that encourages productive thinking amongst the whole group of debaters. Howard Dean, Al Sharpton, and Dennis Kucinich will not win the nomination, but they sure bring some great ideas/issues/truths to the table without really threatening or drowning out front runners,
Kerry and Edwards. Also, kudos to General Wesley Clark; if he hadn't run, would Michael Moore ever have had the stage or media coverage to put
George Bush the Deserter into the minds of the voting public? Does this prove how even a media-branded “wacko-liberal” can contribute, too?

During the 2000 campaign I also recall saying to my Democratic-voting peers that I would vote for Gore and encourage others to do the same if the Gore/Lieberman camp would simply, prior to election-day, offer Nader an appointed position in their Administration or Cabinet if the Democrats won; Nader would be a great resource with the Dept. of Energy, Secretary of the Interior, White House Janitorial staff, whatever... It would have been an enormous symbolic gesture and doing so would have brought many many votes to Gore. (Whether Nader would’ve accepted it or declined is not the issue).
Simply put, I have a WHATEVER IT TAKES TO BEAT BUSH attitude in '04, and I support the Democratic Party as they are best set to accomplish this feat and end this
miserable failure of an administration.
However, as a suggestion TO THOSE WHO WOULD RATHER BASH NADER’s Constitutional Right to run for the Presidency(he's at least 35 and born in the US and that's about all that matters, folks), WHY NOT instead encourage the Democratic Nominee/Committee to OFFER NADER A POSITION IN THE DEMOCRATIC ADMINISTRATION in the event the Dems take back the White House?

I haven’t heard this mentioned yet, AND it really seems like a realistic and reasonable request and solution that would diffuse the NADER-bomb and ensure a Democratic Party Victory and the ousting of George Bush in November.

I don’t think this is as radical, liberal or (add your expletive here) as it may first appear to many: Think about it...inviting Nader, a VERY REAL potential spoiler (who has really never threatened anybody other than Corporate interests) to sit at the “democratic” table with the democrats(who say they hate Bush’s Corporate favoritism) and in doing so, bringing Nader’s voters and their votes to the table as well. This would NO DOUBT seal a victory and send Bush and his Neocon-minority packing and none to soon.

United we stand, divided we fall.

At minimum, we should encourage the Democratic Party to INVITE Nader to appear in a Presidential Debate at least as a symbolic gesture, AND show Ralph Nader and his supporters some deserved respect. Not to mention this invitation would say a lot to those disenchanted voters who want to believe that the 2-party system isn't just an exclusive "Skull & CrossBones"-esque "Good Old Boys club" but who can find no proof to show otherwise.

...And if neither of the 2 Goliath Democratic or Republican Parties in the US have it in them to appease Ralph Nader, this media-branded "egomaniac" 70 year old man who, you have to admit, has done quite a bit of selfless activism in his lifetime and really could have sold out a long time ago, you gotta wonder, "What are the 2 Major Parties REALLY UP TO, or better put, what or who are they really afraid of?”

Posted by endrizzi at February 29, 2004 02:22 PM

The scent is cold, but I'll weigh in anyway....

It's not just a problem with Nader. Any time a "spoiler" candidate runs it's a problem. By spoiler, I mean a candidate who can muster between, say, 2% and 20% of the vote, throwing the election to another candidate who may only garner 41%.

This would be fixed if there were a run-off vote anytime the "winner" failed to get a simple majority of both the popular and the electoral vote.

I would have supported such a run-off in the last election, even though I strongly supported GWB, then and now. The goal should be an honest reflection of the will of the electorate.

In any case, Nader is clearly the best Liberal running, and he's coming up fast in the polls. Where is your faith in the system? You should vote your conscience. Vote for Nader and topple the Bush Presidency. If you don't vote for Nader, you will be morally responsible for Bush winning.

Disclaimer: the above paragraph is sarcasm. I think that anyone who votes for a candidate who cannot win is...ummm...cognitively defective. Or at least foolishly naive and credulous. And anyone who responds "But Nader *can* win!" is even more credulous.

Posted by nutleydan at May 4, 2004 06:07 PM

Please help support Tea Leaves by visiting our sponsors.

November October September August July June May April March February January

December November October September August July June May April March February January

December November October September August July June May April March February January