Readers of our blog will note that Peter Ferrara and I will be discussing the Memorial Day anti-war protests by John Edwards and his backers. I for one think that, strictly as a legal matter, the anti-war group has the right peacefully to protest any time it wants. But that a person has a right to do X hardly means that he is required to do X, much less that he is required to do it in a way seemingly designed to offend and antagonize as many people as possible, including and especially the surviving family members of those who died fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
It’s hardly news that there’s a time and a place for everything. First Amendment jurisprudence has recognized this for decades, holding that the government may adopt reasonable “time, place and manner” restrictions on othewise protected speech. In my view, the government should be cautious in doing so, because the temptation will always be to smuggle in content-based restrictions in the guise of “time, place and manner” regulation. Sooner rather than later, conservatives will find themselves on the wrong end of this kind of soft-core censorship.
To say that it would be problematic to adopt legal restrictions to regulate the sort of protest Mr. Edwards encouraged is not to say, however, that it should get a free pass. Where is the cultural condemnation? Culture is more powerful than law (because culture shapes law and because, in its way, it regulates unwholesome behavior law cannot and probably should not reach).
So Mr. Edwards & Co. have their rights — and we have ours. I want to exercise mine by asking Mr. Edwards a question made famous in the McCarthy hearings:
Have you no shame?
How can a man who aspires to lead the nation exploit our most solemn national holiday to use as a campaign artifact? And if he must persist in the tastelessness of doing that, how can he pretend that what is “good for the troops” is to send them stuffed animals and peace emblems? Our soldiers did not train to be children. They trained to be warriors. Perhaps Mr. Edwards could treat them as such, by keeping his stuffed animals at home and sending instead his best wishes for them to DEFEAT THE ENEMY AND RETURN HOME VICTORS.
But if he can’t bring himself to do that, could he, for just one day — Memorial Day — show a little restraint? Just a little?