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The foot and the First Amendment

Thursday, October 28th, 2010



The now-infamous Kentucky incident, in which a Rand Paul acolyte saw fit to affix his sneakered foot to the head of a prostrate protester, is hardly the most important news event of the week. Still, I’m fascinated by the response to the event – particularly among conservative spin doctors who can’t even face the factual reality as recorded on actual video footage.

Yep, we’ve reached the point, in our ideologically polarized era, where we can’t even forge a consensus based on what we can see with our own eyes.

Lauren Valle, a MoveOn.org activist in a red hoodie, wanted to present Paul, the tea-party GOP senatorial candidate, with a mock award. It was a gag, an attempt to honor Paul for his alleged ties to corporate America. When she tried to approach Paul as he exited his campaign car the other night, she was steered away by Paul’s guardians. Paul exited the car and he was gone – but the guardians, ever alert to the purported threat, wrestled her to the ground. Whereupon Tim Profitt, a county coordinator in the Paul campaign, planted his shoe on her neck and shoulder, then pressed it down on her head.

Notice, however, that I didn’t use the word stomp.


That verb – which, in many quarters, has already come to define this incident – strikes me as too strong. Stomping is what Nazi goons did in the ’30s when they’d take a German Jew into an alley and render him senseless. Stomping is what Robert DeNiro and Joe Pecci did in Goodfellas, when they turned a guy into a hunk of meat on the bar floor. At least by comparison, Profitt’s needless coup de grace was far more benign. Valle was essentially unmarred and unscarred by the time she predictably surfaced on MSNBC one night later.

Most noteworthy, however, is some of the response on the right – starting with Profitt’s willful state of denial. The footage shows that Paul’s guardians overreacted to Valle’s harmless prank. (In Kentucky, she had been running satirical events, mock-celebrating the merger of the GOP and corporate America, calling it “RepubliCorp.” That kind of left-leaning street theatre is probably a waste of time, but it’s harmless. And the Paul camp reportedly knew about Valle’s stunts.) Yet here was Profitt on Kentucky TV yesterday: “I would like her to apologize to me, to be honest with you.”

At one point, he did feel compelled to explain why he had jammed his foot against her head (“I couldn’t bend over because I have issues with my back”), but mostly he put the onus on her: “When all the facts come out, she’s the one who initiated the whole thing.”

What she had actually “initiated” was her First Amendment right to protest and dissent. Profitt seems not to understand what that is – as evidenced by what he told the Associated Press: “A friend of mine went up to three policemen before Rand got there and told them about the girl who was standing there with that wig on and that she was ready to do something. The policemen looked at him and said, ‘That’s not our job.’”

Memo to Profitt:  Those cops were right. In America, if you’re standing at a candidate’s event with a wig and a poster, you’re not supposed to get preemptively hauled away.

Facts and footage notwithstanding, however, various conservative voices have reacted in predictable fashion. The first necessary task was to demonize Valle – as “an unhinged leftist,” a stalker, a “professional agitator,” as “another paid Soros activist (who) tries to incite violence.”

Incite violence?

Meanwhile, Rush Limbaugh went on the air to deny what we can see with our own eyes: “Her head was not stepped on, her shoulders were.” No word yet on whether Tim Profitt will land a show on Fox News, or sub for Limbaugh when the big guy goes on vacation.

Granted, passions are running high in this campaign season. But given the fact that a young woman in Kentucky was subsumed by a foot for having the temerity to protest a tea-party candidate, and that a reporter in Alaska was handcuffed and carted away by tea-party Senate candidate Joe Miller’s bodyguards for having the temerity to ask pesky questions, perhaps it would appear that the right has an insufficient grasp of the First Amendment. It’s enough to make me want to take my country back.


63 Comments

  • JL in the DE says:

    Are you kidding me! What Profitt did was cowardly. Period! A grown man of what looks to be about 200 lbs stomped/pressed/put his foot on a woman half his size while she was in a submissive and defenseless position. Come on people. Politics aside, what type of man assaults a woman then has the audacity to ask her to apologize to him. His actions should be condemned by EVERYONE who saw the video. There is no justification for what he did. COWARD!

    • yobill626 says:

      JL: I couldn’t agree more. Based on what appears to be straight video, Profitt reminds me of one of those bar bouncers back in the day who instead of just removing a disorderly patron, goes a step too far. Who wants to bet that the guy running the nuts & bolts of the campaign for Rand Paul chewed Profitt a new one today over his actions?

  • NE Philly says:

    ***The First amendment prohibits the making of any law “respecting an establishment of religion”, impeding the free exercise of religion, infringing on the freedom of speech, infringing on the freedom of the press, interfering with the right to peaceably assemble or prohibiting the petitioning for a governmental redress of grievances.*** Now, if you want to go to any street corner and do the same thing you can (present the award, etc). You just can’t get in someone’s face anytime you would like and say anything you like and then profess freedom of speech when someone stops you! Try doing that to P-Diddy or Miley Cyrus or Arlen Spector and see what their security would do to you!

    • landscape says:

      I thought that Rand had already left. So no danger to him. Was this just a stunt?

    • Rich says:

      Yes, you can! You don’t seem to understand what freedom of speech means. Short of yelling “Fire” in a crowded theater, you can get in anyone’s face and say anything you like, and that goes double for public figures like political candidates. There is no requirement that free speech be polite speech!

      • Rich says:

        P. S. My response is directed at NEPhilly’s post – these things get out of order easily depending on timing of posts!

      • F. Inahoy says:

        The next time you’re at the movie theater (or the opera, whatever) pull out your cell phone and engage in a long and loud argument with best buddy and find out just how far your first amendment rights really go. Or take the advice I gave Polman earlier: go visit a Mosque and freely express your constitutional rights by raising your feet up on a table and drawing cartoons of the prophet.

  • trx says:

    You failed to address my point. Would yo consider it someones Constitutional right to rush Obamas car and shove something into his face through an open window?

    • Kathy in Blue Bell says:

      I would expect the Secret Service to pull that person away from the car and see what they were trying to shove in the car. Once the person was away from the car and clearly not a threat, I would not expect the secret service to step on the person’s head. However, in this case, it would appear Lauren Valle was roughed up even after she was separated from the car and was not anywhere near Rand Paul.

      • trx says:

        Ooops. Hypothetically, it’s too late, it was a weapon. And you’re right, the Secret Service are highly trained top grade professionals. The security at the Paul event were not prepared for the chaos, but the Moveon person clearly provoked it. Not something that should be encouraged.

        • backfire says:

          thanks loser for providing yet another example of misplaced justification for an act of bullying.

  • trx says:

    Soros funds the unhinged Moveon.org and Soros funds NPR. Does anyone here expect Dick to go against the grain, company man that he is? How else does one of the “finest political writers of his generation” call the Republican Party Dead a year ago yet get plucked from the sinking ship at the Inquirer for a fat job as another DNC mouthpiece at NPR?

  • swedesboromike says:

    Polman writes ” Profitt’s needless coup de grace was far more benign. Valle was essentially unmarred and unscarred by the time she predictably surfaced on MSNBC one night later.”…………………….. I can’t totally disagree with Polman on this column except for the snarky comment that Profitt will end up on Fox News with his own show. Yea OK, right next to Alan Colmes, Bob Beckel, Juan Williams, Kirston Powers, Dr. Lamont Hill, and Geraldine Ferraro. The narrative the left has with Fox News is quite tiresome. With that said , people are idiots sometimes when it comes to politics. The movon.org gal got exactly what she wanted and the Paul supporters were stupid to give to her.

    • Kathy in Blue Bell says:

      Juan Williams doesn’t have his own show yet but he did get a hefty 2 million dollar contract with FOX. Actually if he says anything the Republican party disagrees with and FOX fires him, would you all be defending his First Amendment rights?

      • trx says:

        Yes, Williams disagrees with republicans all pf the time on their opinion panels. You obviously don’t watch but accept being brainwashed because Fox encourages alternative views, which I think is a prime contributor to their ratings dominance.

      • swedesboromike says:

        Kathy, I think you would just have to watch some of the programming. There is a narrative about Fox that you get from other media outlets or can you just tune in and see for yourself. Fox has numerous liberal contributors.

        • landscape says:

          Mike Who are they and when did they start with Fox?

        • swedesboromike says:

          Landscape- Dr. Lamont Hill, Geraldine Ferraro, Bob Beckel, Juan Williams, Kirsten Powers, Alan Colmes, Mara Liasson ( who also works at NPR) to name a few. Some would say Heraldo Rivera is left leaning. Al Sharpton is a regular with Bill O’Reilly. So is Lanny Davis( from the Clinton Admin) Their 6pm show with Brett Bair is about the best political discussion you’ll find on TV. It’s a silly argument to get into. My only thinking is carefull to get your narrative about a network by watching clips from one of their competitors.

        • landscape says:

          Mike I think you may have listed a mix of guests and hosts. I used to watch some but the “liberal commentators” were just shills. Kind of like the Washington Nationals team that toured with the Globetrotters. And it wasn’t worth the time. So have things changed?

        • landscape says:

          Mike Oops, I forgot. When did things change?

        • swedesboromike says:

          Landscape- It’s really a silly argument. They’ve always had liberal contributors on all their shows with the exception of Beck. Who was on CNN for a few years doing the same schtick with little notice. Don’t watch it then but please don’t give me your two cent regurgitation about Fox News from Keith Olberman

        • Kathy in Blue Bell says:

          I actually do watch from time to time and when I do I see the liberals you list bashing Obama. They are not allowed to say much else. What I never see are conservatives like David Frum who might say something critical about the direction the Republican party is going. This is however, besides my point, which is IF FOX fired someone who goes against conservative conventional wisdom, it is highly unlikely that conservatives clamoring for Juan Williams first amendment rights would be pretty quiet.

        • landscape says:

          Mike You’re making lots of bad assumptions about me. I’ve never watched Keith Olberman, except when he was with the NFL commentators (I still don’t know why he was there).

    • swedesboromike says:

      Not that I give a hoot, but, why 8 negative votes for this post? Do you lurkers even read it? I am calling the Paul supporters who did this, idiots.

    • swedesboromike says:

      Kathy in Blue Bell- The liberals on Fox are usually supporting Democrats and Obama. So I doubt you ever watch. Which is fine but don’t give me your two cent regurgitation on Fox from the likes of Keith Olberman.

  • trx says:

    Call me unconstitutional, but if someone rushes up to my car and shoves something in my face through the window, I would judge any physical consequences to be of her doing.

  • NE Philly says:

    When a party can’t run on their accomplishments while running the country and in control of the Presidency, House and Senate you stoop to nonsense, smears and attack ads! When a party jams through its costly liberal agenda (stimulus, healthcare & big govt.) with parlimentary tricks, trades and back office deals while piling up $3 Tril in debt since Pres. Obama was elected (and $5Tril since dems took control of congress) and the economy is worse off than when you got there! This is how you are treated by the electorate. Thank the Lord!

    • schnail says:

      Parliamentary tricks?

      1. Bill brought to floor
      2. ‘Yea’ and ‘nay’ votes counted
      3. ‘Yea’ outnumbers ‘nay’
      4. Bill is passed.

      DiaBOLical

      • NE Philly says:

        ***Budget reconciliation was never intended to push through dramatic and expansive new programs. It was created as a way to help a reluctant Congress curb spending, reduce deficits, and cut the debt. Moreover, changes made under reconciliation expire after five or 10 years, depending on the budget. This is clearly not the appropriate process for implementing significant new policies.(such as healthcare) The threat to use reconciliation to drive through dramatic policy changes such as a national health-care program also destroys any incentive for good-faith negotiations over the details between the Democrats and Republicans. The president’s message is clear: He wants to include reconciliation as an option in case he doesn’t like the way discussions are going.***
        http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124078888721857543.html

    • JimR says:

      NEP, the repubs aren’t running on accomplishments either. The sum of the basic campaign is “We’re not the Dems” That’s not a real plan.

  • F. Inahoy says:

    I’d like Polman to explain exactly how he considers this incident in anyway related to the First Amendment. It is no more a First Amendment issue than is the firing of Juan Williams. I think Polman should go visit a Mosque and freely express his constitutional rights by raising his feet up on a table and drawing cartoons of the prophet.

    • Kathy in Blue Bell says:

      NPR is an employer who terminated a contract with an employee who broke the terms of the contract. The thug who stepped on Lauren Valle was assaulting her because she wished to say something to someone running for public office.
      I think NPR could have handled the situation differently, but I am surprised at conservatives who don’t believe that employers can fire employees who violate the terms of their contract.

      • NigeltheMastiff says:

        Kathy, I agree with you on this point. I too think that NPR handled the situation very poorly. But employers do have the right to fire employees. Of course, it was pretty awful to do so in an e-mail (or was it a letter). That’s just very bad form. And for the record, I don’t think what he said was so awful. I try not to make assumptions about people, but being so close to NY on 9/11, it might be difficult not to have suspicions about someone dressed in traditional Muslim robes if I were flying somewhere. And I’m very surprised that anyone would justify the behavior of the man who stepped on Lauren Valle. I personally don’t go for those hokey kinds of demonstrations, but I certainly wouldn’t try to push anyone to the ground and step on him/her. If she had been brandishing a weapon that would have been different. But a sign or fake award? Come on.

        • swedesboromike says:

          I really think NPR should have their status as a non-profit revoked and their funding cut. With all the poor people in this country there is a lot more good that can be done with the financial donations than to give it to a dopey media outlet. It can keep the name but it should sink or swim in the free market like any other media outlet

      • F. Inahoy says:

        Perhaps I wasn’t clear. Neither of these cases has anything at all to do with the First Amendment. Those who are portraying them as such are simply rabble-rousing and fear mongering.

  • frankg962 says:

    It has become clear that for the unhinged right the Constitution only applies to their supporters, not to the rest of us. This is just another example of the intolerance on the right for our constitutional rights.

  • trx says:

    And by the way, I lost. I had today as the day Dick would be allowed to weigh in on the Censorship practiced at NPR as demonstrated by the Juan Williams fiasco.

  • trx says:

    Yes, she incited the violence and clearly provoked the response by rushing to a presumptive Senator-elect’s car and shoving a sign in his face. What if she had a weapon? She was obviously a kook wearing a wig and shrieking. I do think Paul needs to hire professional security. I thought that was provided by the Secret Service? if not, it needs to be. The guy who held her down with his foot was not a professional, got caught up in the chaos but it wasnt like he stood there kicking the heck out of her. he held her down with his foot. What might the outcome be if a teabagger rushes Obama car and gets close enough to shove something in his face? Is that the kind of precedent the left wants to set?

    • Rich says:

      Teabaggers (you said it, not me) have shown up at Obama speeches and rallies carrying guns and they didn’t get treated like this. The wingnuts really don’t seem to understand that other people have a Constitutional right to express disagreement with them.

      • NE Philly says:

        The wingnuts like NPR? I doubt there were any tea party members at an Obama rally with guns! I think the secret service would frown upon that:)

        • Rich says:

          They did, more than once. One of them had some sort of semi-automatic weapon, I think. I can’t be bothered Googling it for you but if you give it a try I don’t think it’s hard to find.

        • frankg962 says:

          There were actually photos of the wingnuts on the right carrying an AR-15 at an appearance by the President in Arizona. Because you know that Obama is intent on overturning the 2nd Amendment.

        • mw56 says:

          Your only calling the man with AR-15 a wingnut because he was black and you disagreed with him. Are you a racist?

    • backfire says:

      trx wants the secret service to provide security to all candidates for office, does anyone else see the irony here?

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