Saturday, February 21, 2009

Chris Buttars' First Amendment Problem

Posted By on February 21, 2009, 5:12 AM

Senate President Michael Waddoups was having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day: "I think it's been probably the toughest 24 hours of my 22 years in the Legislature," he said. "It has my temples pounding. It creates all sorts of emotions." [Thanks to the Trib's ever-intrepid Robert Gehrke for getting such great quotes.] Waddoups' e-mail was overflowing with pleas, complaints, rants--and possibly even naughty words--from constituents demanding he do something about That Senator.

Meanwhile, the senator in question--Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan--remained defiant in the face of widespread public outrage, dismissing the cause of Waddoups' emotional turmoil simply as the "pressure of a special-interest group that has been allowed to act with impunity." Buttars may pride himself on his sly political savvy, but these are not exactly dog-whistle words he's using. Buttarspeak is easy to translate:

  • "Pressure" = "media attention,"
  • "special-interest group" = "the gays" and
  • "allowed to act with impunity" = "getting too uppity."

The term "special-interest group" is meant to underscore the fact that gays and lesbians represent a small minority whose concerns can safely be ignored, In Buttars' world, only homosexuals are outraged by anti-gay hate speech. This makes gays and lesbians a safe target.

But then, if the world is divided into two kinds of people—gays and people who hate gays—where, exactly, were all those e-mails flooding the Legislature's mail server coming from? Perhaps Buttars doesn't realize that a great many fair-minded people—even heterosexuals!—believe in treating others with fairness, dignity and respect.

In the end, the Senate's response to the Buttars debacle was a matter, not of principle, but damage-control. Sure, like everybody else, Buttars has the freedom to say what he likes. And, if the rest of us think what he says is idiotic, we likewise have the right to criticize him.

It has nothing to do with whether he's chairman of this or that committee. The fact that he holds such irrational views means that he can't be trusted to deal objectively with a certain number legislative issues. Even if he never said another word about gays for the rest of his life, we'd still know how his mind works.

It's not the mind of a senator.

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