Personal Liberty Issue Update: Ron Paul, Stephen Colbert and Dr. Dre

Liberty – or lack thereof – seems to be on everyone’s mind these days. In just the last six weeks, one Republican member of Congress called for limits on free speech during wartime, another published a book defining liberty, and a third compared high taxes to the Holocaust. Meanwhile, Democrats fought to protect funding for Planned Parenthood, Dr. Dre won a landmark court case over cops in Michigan, and Willie Nelson got to sing his way out of pot charges. Hard to make sense of who's who on what side? Well that's half the fun. Read on...

  • "Free speech is a great idea, but we're in a war." Those words were uttered by Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC), after Fundamentalist Pastor Terry Jones finally carried out his plan to publicly burn a copy of the Koran. The burning had attracted little attention in the U.S. but outraged the Arab world, resulting in a riot that left 12 U.N. workers in Afghanistan dead. The Senator faced sharp criticism for his comment from conservative pundits who support him on most issues. But in a follow-up interview with The National ReviewGraham did not back down, saying “if I could hold people accountable, I would. But I know that we can’t. I just don’t like the idea of free speech being used as a reason to put our troops at risk.”
  • A Republican with some very different views on personal liberty is Congressman Ron Paul (TX), a staple in the libertarian and anti-authoritarian camp. His new book Liberty Defined: The 50 Urgent Issues that Affect Our Freedom, debuted at no. 3 on the NYT bestseller list. The book takes on a plethora of liberty issues ranging from immigration to abortion and calls for an end to oversees wars. It’s looking likely that Paul will make a presidential bid in 2012. In recent weeks, he has launched a presidential exploratory committee and participated in the first GOP Primary Presidential debate, hosted by FOX News.
  • Further underscoring the different contexts through which people view liberty, Republican congresswoman Michele Bachmann recently raised some eyebrows when she compared tax increases to the Holocaust (a comparison that the Anti-Defamation League condemned). She discussed learning about the Holocaust as a little girl and wondering what her mother had done to try to stop it. She then finished her point by saying that tax rates could eventually reach 75-percent and a future generation was going to wonder what people did while "watching quite literally our economic liberty pulled out from under us."
  • Now here’s one where Democrats were crying foul. They refused to sign off on a budget deal that called for ending all federal funding to Planned Parenthood. The money would not have funded abortions directly, but Republicans wanted to cut off all funding to these women’s health clinics and the impasse over the issue nearly led to a government shutdown. Speaking to his colleagues on the Senate floor, Jon Kyl (R-AZ) suggested that abortions make up “well over 90%” of Planned Parenthood’s services, a claim that was quickly shown to be false (abortions actually make up only 3% of Planned Parenthood’s services). A Kyl aid then said his boss’s words were “not intended to be a factual statement,” prompting Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert to set off a twitter frenzy of similarly bogus statements under that hashtag. Colbert got more material for the Planned Parenthood debate when the hosts of Fox News’ Fox & Friends stated that women could just go to Walgreens for a pap smear, a claim that the Walgreens chain quickly refuted.
  • Dr. Dre and Eminem have helped set legal precedent regarding police conduct. After cops sued the rappers for using their images in a video without permission, a 6-1 ruling by the Michigan Supreme Court said that police do not have a right to privacy while on the job. It’s a landmark decision that makes it legal for police throughout the state of Michigan to be videotaped while on duty. Many states have been pushing to make taping police illegal – and punishable by jail time – despite numerous cases of police misconduct being caught by simple cell phone cameras.
  • And they’re not the only musicians tangling with the police recently. Willie Nelson was once again arrested for marijuana possession but was asked only to sing a few songs for the court in order to avoid possible jail time. With a new report indicating that more African American men are currently in prison than were enslaved in 1850, mostly due to drug offenses, is it fair for Willie to catch such a break?

Keep reading the HeadCount Blog for more news on Personal Liberty and the many ways it’s being debated in this country. And let me know if there are issues or stories you think belong in my next update.