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Jewish World Review Dec. 29, 1999

Cal Thomas

Cal Thomas
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Off his rocker --
ATLANTA BRAVES PITCHER John Rocker hit a grand slam in the political incorrectness game when he attacked immigrants, homosexuals, single mothers, African Americans, paroled thugs and New York City in the same interview. Rocker told Sports Illustrated, "Imagine having to take the (No.) 7 train to (Shea Stadium) looking like you're (in) Beirut next to some kid with purple hair, next to some queer with AIDS, right next to some dude who got out of jail for the fourth time, right next to some 20-year-old mom with four kids. It's depressing.''

Of course his remarks were outrageous. Of course he was wrong, insensitive and bigoted. Of course he should not be fired, traded or penalized. He has a First Amendment right to make a fool of himself.

The response to outrageous speech ought not be silencing the speaker, but encouragement of more speech. A fool does himself in when he keeps speaking rubbish. He does more damage to himself than any penalty which might be imposed on him. In fact, such penalties can make him a hero and martyr to hate groups and do little to bring the offending individual to a point where he might see the error of his ways.

There is, and has been for years, a double standard when it comes to speech. The vilest things now enter our living rooms through television. Producers say if you don't like it, turn it off. But they are quick to pounce on those who say things offending their sensibilities and the protected classes.

Actors, most of whom are liberal, have said all sorts of horrible things about conservative Republicans without penalty. Alec Baldwin compared the House managers of President Clinton's impeachment to "night riders'' and said on NBC's Conan O'Brian show that Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) ought to be stoned to death. A New York Times story last January quoted a liberal Manhattanite who compared House Republicans to Nazis.

Numerous Democrats have claimed that Republican policies, from proposed spending cuts to revisions in environmental law, would lead to the deaths of thousand of citizens. Democrats can call Republicans all sorts of names and accuse them of all sorts of things without paying a price because the press gives them a free pass. White House spokesman Joe Lockhart equated the nation's largest Protestant denomination, Southern Baptists, to hate groups because they believe they are commanded to convert people of other religions.

House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt in 1997 referred to then-Speaker Newt Gingrich and his fellow conservatives as "trickle-down terrorists who base their agenda on division, exclusion and fear.'' If a conservative said something like that about a Democrat he would be called uncivil, harsh and mean-spirited.

Media people are no better. Denver Post columnist Diane Carmen wrote that Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, Colorado Republican of Native American ancestry, is "a pimp...(who) looks good in a headdress.'' The publisher apologized. CNN founder Ted Turner has said, "Christians are losers'' and once promised to replace The Ten Commandments with his own "ten voluntary initiatives'' because the Commandments allowed no "amendment procedure.'' Turner apologized for making Pope John Paul II the butt of a Polish joke. Turner owns the same Atlanta Braves for which John Rocker plays. It would be unfair to penalize Rocker and do nothing about Turner.Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott was suspended from Major League Baseball for one year for making anti-religious and racial slurs in a private conversation that was overheard and reported to the press.

Suspending or trading John Rocker will not change his views. It will only harden them. A better strategy would be for those on the receiving end of his slurs to go to him and kill him with kindness, confounding his stereotypes of them. A changed heart is a much better solution than a silenced mouth and a mind that harbors the same angry thoughts that become multiplied when the people he thinks he hates -- but probably doesn't even know -- hit him with a bean ball.

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