WESTERHOLD: Don't taze me, bro

In America, everybody has the right to free speech. It's guaranteed in the Bill of Rights attached to the U.S. Constitution. You get
Matt Westerhold
May 24, 2010


In America, everybody has the right to free speech. It's guaranteed in the Bill of Rights attached to the U.S. Constitution. You get to say what you think without fear of retribution. Or not.

There's a new clause being inserted into the First Amendment that says if you're obnoxious, a prankster, a Borat imitator, a dissenter or someone with an opposing view, you don't get to ask a U.S. senator a long-winded question.

This addendum is still being written, but one accepted way to enforce it is for college campus security guards to surround the offending American, push him to the ground and repeatedly pelt him with electric shocks.

That's what happened last week during a public forum at the University of Florida in Gainesville. Andrew Meyer, a 21-year-old journalism student at the university, angled his way to the microphone at the end of a Q&A session that Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry was conducting with students after Meyer shouted out that he had something to ask.

Kerry, to his credit, invited Meyer to the microphone and wanted to answer his question about why the former presidential candidate conceded the 2004 election, when, according to Meyer and others, ample evidence existed that tens of thousands of voters in Florida had been prevented from voting.

Meyer was rambling and aggressive with the question. He was obnoxious, verbally combative, opinionated, a know-it-all and something of an ass. No doubt. No doubt.

But we're Americans. We have the right to be all those things without fear a taxpayer-funded goon squad is going to take us down and pelt us with shocks until we're incapacitated and arrest us for resisting their gooniness.

Andrew Meyer is what he is, but he didn't deserve what he got and he proved his point with his YouTube moment.

Democracy is an ugly thing. If you don't believe that, just take a look at the reader comment sections on some of the more controversial stories posted at sanduskyregister.com. Whew, now that is ugly, and I suspect a lot of it comes from taxpayer-funded goons with an agenda.

Agree or disagree with Meyer's approach, his method or his agenda, but don't condone what happened to him while his First Amendment rights were suppressed.

In the old days, you know, way back in the 1990s, politicians often got heckled. Those dissenters were either drowned out by other Americans in the audience exercising their First Amendment rights, or the speaker was able to engage the heckler.

Engaging a dissenter takes courage and confidence -- two things we want in the leaders we elect. It also provides unscripted opportunities to crystallize difficult issues and define the real positions politicians have beyond the lip service they all too often provide.

But you never get to see dissent on the campaign trail any more. Campaign stops are even more carefully choreographed today than they were before we started blindly accepting fewer rights in the name of national security, privacy and a host of other sneaky reasons that chip away at what it means to be an American.