Req: A, E, N, S
“Taser This… F* Bush”
That four-word editorial in the Colorado State University student newspaper — which spelled out the expletive in large, bold letters — has renewed the national conversation about free speech on campus and in newspapers.
By now you should know what to expect. Conservatives have lined up to protest, ostensibly on grounds that it was “sick and childish.” In some cases they have even called for the editor’s resignation. Liberals are stepping forward to defend the editorial on “freedom of speech” grounds or even to praise it as “clever.”
When faced with questions about freedom of speech, it is often useful to divorce the issue (free speech in a campus publication) from the content (F* Bush). Too often discussion devolves into individuals wanting society to protect the speech they agree with and silence that with which they disagree. It seems obvious that an editorial that said “F* Hillary” would have drawn neither conservative critics nor liberal defenders with nearly the same level of enthusiasm.
In pondering the limits of free speech, consider the following headlines:
F* this university
F* <insert name of God/gods>
F* <insert slur for minority group>
After looking over those headlines, it becomes apparent that unless one wishes to limit the right of individuals to criticize their government and its officials, the only real issue with the CSU editorial is the use of the expletive.
It is an a priori good that a community recognize the right of its citizens to freedom of speech. But exercise of that right is not, by its very nature alone, a good. The gratuitous use of vulgarity certainly demeans the value of free speech, yet it does not in and of itself erase that value.
In the final analysis, the Colorado State University editorial is little more than a vulgar blip at that university, let alone a subject worthy of national attention. That it has achieved such prominence speaks more to the political divisiveness of the nation than it does to the freedom of speech, or lack thereof, on university campuses.
While one can appreciate the opportunity to discuss an issue as important as freedom of speech on campus, what it really comes down to in this instance is that the editor used a “bad word.” More than that is overreaction.