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Free Speech on my iPod

September 29, 2011 by John Sheirer

John Sheirer's picture

Everyone I know under the age of forty makes fun of me because my iPod has about ten songs and a few hundred audio books and podcasts. I listen to these programs for the hour and a half I have my butt planted in the car seat going back and forth to work each day. I'll admit that that listening to talking heads in my car makes me a geek. But I'd rather be a geek who learns something each day than a cool guy who can sing along with a every tune on the radio.

A quick scan through my iPod reveals podcasts of The Rachel Maddow Show, The Professional Left, The Best of the Left, and the two great shows produced right here near my home in Western Massachusetts, The Liberal Oasis and the David Pakman Show. Also present are books such as Barack Obama's Dreams From My Father, Thom Hartmann's Screwed: The Undeclared War Against the Middle Class, Michael Lux's The Progressive Revolution, and Al Franken's classic, Lies and they Lying Liars Who Tell Them. Yeah … I'm a liberal--and a nerd for the spoken word.

That's not to say that I don't enjoy music. I do. And just the other day, I downloaded an entire album of songs onto my iPod, more than tripling my access to music. Guess what album took its place alongside all those great books and podcasts? It's Taking the Long Way, by the Dixie Chicks.

I'm a farm boy at heart who has always enjoyed country-folk music. The ultra-twangy stuff doesn't really do much for me, but the passionate, lyrical, melodious songs on Taking the Long Way are worth listening to again and again.

Some people may have forgotten the saga of the Dixie Chicks that unfolded just a few years ago. The group had won many major awards and was considered one of the top country acts in the business. In January 2003, they even performed the National Anthem at the Super Bowl.

But in March of that year, during the build-up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, lead singer and Texas native Natalie Maines said at a concert in London, "We don't want this war, this violence, and we're ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas."

A few days later, Maines apologized, but her remark set off high-profile protests within the country music community. Radio and television stations refused to play their songs, consumers boycotted them, commentators condemned them as unpatriotic, and former fans burned their CDs and even crushed them with a bulldozer. The right-wing media dubbed the group the "Dixie Twits," called them "ignorant," "bimbos," and even misogynistically talked about "slapping them around." Worst of all, during the group's concert tour, Maines (at the time a 30-year-old mother of an infant) received death threats.

The aftermath of the protests are captured eloquently in Barbara Kopple's award-winning documentary Shut Up and Sing, which shows the group members to be intelligent, passionate, thoughtful artists who love each other and their country. By comparison, the boycotters and bulldozers, who were already well to the right of the American mainstream, look narrow-minded, jingoistic, and just plain mean.

I can't help but notice the contrast between Maines's rather mild remark about President Bush and the vicious comments we hear every day about our current president. A simple Google search turns up hundreds of insults and attacks from media personalities against President Obama that make "ashamed he's from Texas" sound like a backhanded compliment. Fox News alone has made a cottage industry of bashing the president. And the "Tea Party" (which is thankfully withering on the vine) seemed to be based on simple racism as much as anything else.

People have said Maines's comment was inappropriate because we were in one war and about to begin another. Have those people forgotten that we are still fighting those two wars today? Why do they think criticizing President Obama is okay today while any negative word about President Bush then was treason? Others have said the Dixie Chicks comment shouldn't have been made on foreign soil. Do they seriously believe that location voids an American's free speech rights? Would they scale back on attacking Obama if they were in London? That's doubtful.

As the roll call of right-wing voices continues its near-constant barrage against President Obama, I'm not going to call for tossing their books onto a bonfire or boycotting their shows. Instead, I'll encourage people to read and listen to them very closely. The more we pay close attention to the baseless attacks and factual distortions written and spoken by the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, and the rest, the more we'll all feel their emptiness and desperation.

I'll even download their books and podcasts and listen to them on my iPod. I hate giving them another sale, but it's worth it to know the full extent of their distortions. These extremists have free speech rights just like all Americans. But I will continue to point out the ways they abuse free speech with lies, personal attacks, and hypocrisy--all at the expense of addressing the real problems and celebrating the real accomplishments in our nation.

And I'll keep listening to the Dixie Chicks when I take a break between audio books and podcasts. My favorite song on the album, written by Maines after the Bush controversy, is called, "Not Ready to Make Nice." I don't blame her.


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