The right to be offensive

Posted: Oct 26, 2001 12:00 AM
Since September 11, we’ve watched the United States pull together to respond to terrorism. American flags abound. Liberal senator Tom Daschle is holding joint news conferences with his conservative counterpart Trent Lott. Americans are showing support for the country’s leaders, and patriotism is breaking out everywhere. Well, almost everywhere. Not on the comics page of your local newspaper, where “The Boondocks” remains true to its liberal, some would even say anti-American, perspective. And that’s good. The strip’s author Aaron McGruder is the exception that proves the First Amendment is alive and well. Not everyone on the left is clinging as tightly to long held views as McGruder. In the days before the terrorist attacks, for example, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen was a frequent critic of President George W. Bush. However, after Bush’s stirring September 20 address to a joint session of Congress, Cohen announced a new respect for the president, writing that Bush, “seemed steadfast. He seemed determined. He seemed confident. He was the master of the moment, as much the leader of that room as a conductor is of his orchestra. He seemed -- this is our American word for it – ‘presidential.’” Cohen understands the reason for the outbreak of patriotism: “the country is united because, crucially, it was attacked.” And he offers tepid support for the war against terrorism: “I, for one, opposed the Vietnam War -- but, with a rage that will not abate, I do not oppose this one.” They also did some gear shifting at Newsweek magazine. With unfortunate timing, even as the towers were coming down, copies of the September 17 Newsweek were sitting on newsstands around the country. The cover story promised to inform readers about “The Secret Vote That Made Bush President”. The unflattering piece was titled “The Accidental President”, and purported to explain how a secret Supreme Court vote short-circuited the electoral process and made George W. Bush President. Two weeks later, the magazine was rallying around the now-popular President -- describing Bush as “Unblinkingly resolute” as he, “defiantly vowed in God’s name to lead an anxious nation and the civilized world in a decisive campaign against the forces of terror.” In other words, acting like anything but an “accidental President”. That October 1 issue also included a Jonathan Alter column about “The New Shape of Patriotism”. Among the groups he takes on are pacifists: “The lefties are out in force, organizing to stop the war before it starts. NO WAR IS A JUST WAR is typical of their handmade signs. History has proven that thinking to be disastrous.” Alter, like Cohen, seems to understand the reasons that Americans are patriotically supporting their country and their president in the battle against terrorism. Contrast that with the view from out in “The Boondocks”. According to its website, the comic strip is “the story of a group of African-American city kids adjusting to life in white suburbia.” Author Aaron McGruder’s goal is, “to provoke thought, help improve the state of racial discourse and expand the types of humor found on comics pages.” He’s certainly accomplishing the last of his goals. His comic strip unquestionably brings a left wing political agenda to a page that usually features only bad art, predictable puns and silly sight gags. McGruder has long been a critic of President Bush and clearly intends to remain one, despite the president’s soaring approval ratings. In the strip published October 9, lead character Huey defiantly vows to get back to life as usual – by criticizing Bush. On September 27, Huey blames the September 11 attacks on the American people, by wondering out loud if Americans shouldn’t be thinking about “why some people hate us”. But taking the “blame America” view wasn’t enough for McGruder. Starting on October 17, he launched two new characters aimed simply at mocking patriotic Americans. Over the next several days the two, named Flagee and Ribbon, poked fun at all of us who have rallied behind the American flag, worn ribbons to honor the victims of September 11 or sent donations to help those affected by the terrorist attacks. So why is “The Boondocks”, overall, a good thing? Well, in this country, everyone has a right to his opinion, and the right to speak his mind. McGruder’s work should probably be moved to the Op-Ed page, instead of the comics page. Many newspapers have already taken that step with another liberal comic strip, “Doonesbury”. But McGruder does have the right to have his work published. If you want to look at it this way, one reason that Americans are fighting is so that “The Boondocks” can keep mocking us. And that’s the beauty of the First Amendment.