Imagine that a waiter at a restaurant chain on Maple Road is discussing the war with Iraq and off-handedly remarks, "I'm ashamed that George W. Bush is president of the United States."
Now imagine that this comment results in having the waiter suspended from his job and banned from working at other restaurants until he formally apologizes.
Unfair? Yes. Unlikely? No.
Two weeks ago at a London concert of the female country music trio the Dixie Chicks, lead singer Natalie Maines - a Texas native - told the audience: "We're ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas."
When the news got back to the United States, country radio stations across the nation - including Buffalo's WYRK-FM 104.5 - stopped playing Dixie Chicks music.
According to an article in The Buffalo News by Anthony Violanti, "Dixie Chicks back on the airwaves," the trio's "Travelin' Soldier" was the No. 1 record played by country radio. After Maines mouthed off in London, Billboard magazine reported a 15 percent drop in airplay and subsequent slide down to No. 3.
While some might be reluctant to equate the pretty, multi-million dollar, Grammy-award-winning trio with some poor schlep losing his gig at Applebee's, the premise is still the same. Because she made a remotely offensive remark against the president, Maines' livelihood and right to free speech was put in jeopardy.
Doesn't the president claim that this whole beef with Iraq is about getting rid of oppression? If that's the case, the United States has plenty of work to do at home.
Violanti's article was accompanied by a photo of a "disgruntled fan" in Bossier City, La., tossing a disc into a pile of Dixie Chicks CDs to be crushed by a bulldozer. In the background, a mass of parents waving American flags and toting "Salute Our Soldiers" signs look on with pride.
I wonder how educated that skinny, pre-adolescent girl in the photograph is about the war with Iraq or world events.
As her peers and parents celebrate the CD-crushing, I doubt that girl has taken as much as a second to envision another girl her age, not "privileged" enough to be born in America, trembling with fear inside her home in Baghdad, not knowing if this day is her last, or if her father or brother or uncle will come home from war alive.
Not surprisingly, Maines caved in under the pressure of the backlash and apologized, saying, "My remark was disrespectful."
WYRK Program Director John Paul put the Dixie Chicks back on the air last Monday citing a violation of the First Amendment. But this issue goes far beyond that. The Constitution guarantees citizens the right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. By taking their music off the air in the first place and threatening their careers, country radio stations nationwide threatened that right.
"I'm glad they apologized; they needed to do that to their fans and to the country," said Linda Lou Schriver of WXRL-AM 1300, another local country station.
Maines did not hurt anyone. She did not threaten anyone. She did not say anything bad about this country - she said something bad about a man.
Maines also happens to be a celebrity who spoke her mind on a political issue and offended a lot of people. If that's a crime, why not just reinstate good old-fashioned blacklisting? If it can happen to her, it can happen to an average Joe without the money or fame to redeem himself.
If Maines really meant what she said, she should have the guts to stand by her beliefs or shut up. As a visible figure with the potential to influence many others, Maines' apology set an example for people with unpopular views that the best thing to do is stay mum.
It also means that free speech violations do not bear the threat of reprimand.
As the article states, "Country music is known for its conservative political stances, especially in times of impending war." My ultimate kudos (sarcasm) goes to country music sensation Travis Tritt for calling Maines "cowardly."
Cowardly? If Tritt is such a hardcore patriot, I would like him to trade in his 10-gallon hat and cowboy boots for a green beret and combat boots, and exchange his guitar for an Uzi.
I would like to see how quickly he soils his knickers when bullets whiz past his head.
"Some people have likened this to when John Lennon said the Beatles were bigger than Jesus," said Paul.
George W. Bush is not Jesus, and if the Messiah can take some criticism, so can the president. Americans have the right to say what they want, no matter how offensive or stupid they sound.
There is nothing more American than free speech and making money - right now, both are in great danger.