Back in the dark days of the 1950s when Joseph R. McCarthy and Richard Nixon were holding witch hunts in the Senate under the guise of saving America from communists, numerous individuals who came before Congress invoked their Fifth Amendment and refused to testify. For exercising a right guaranteed to every American, these individuals were excoriated by their inquisitors as “Fifth Amendment Communists.” The tail-wags-the-dog media of the day—with the rare exception of courageous individuals such as Edward R. Murrow—dutifully printed those allegations.

Today we see a different scenario playing out, though this time it’s the First Amendment that’s under the microscope. In a less open society, what individuals could say would be strictly circumscribed. One of the prices we pay for freedom is that, on occasion, we must put up with constitutional abuses. Rush Limbaugh and Pat Robertson have just done more damage to the First than any defendant ever did to the Fifth during the McCarthy era. Americans with a conscience are heartbroken by post-earthquake images in Haiti. The devastation is utter and horrific. As I write this, officials estimate that as many as 50,000 people may have died. To put that in perspective, folks, it’s the equivalent of around eighteen 9/11 incidents. Most Americans get this; that’s why the outpouring of grief and relief has been immediate and enormous.

There are, however, always those willing to exploit even the worst tragedy as an opportunity for self-aggrandizement and because we have this little-old-thing called the First Amendment, they’re free to do so. Enter Rush Limbaugh and Pat Robertson, the Brown Shirts of the Far Right. Limbaugh’s take on the relief effort? He called it President Obama’s effort to play the role of humanitarian and rebuild sagging support with the “light-skinned and dark-skinned black community in this country.” Al Franken got it right—Limbaugh is a big fat jerk. Maybe it’s time to adjust his meds again.

But Limbaugh is almost a Mother Teresa compared to Robertson, who called the earthquake God’s punishment for the 1791-1803 century Haitian revolution! According the Wrong Reverend Robertson, Haitians made “a pact with the devil” to overthrow the French, and Haiti's subsequent tragic history is God’s wrathful revenge. Did this moron ever take a history course in his life? Insensitivity, boorishness, and flat-out-hatefulness aside, Robertson’s take is a White Man’s Burden view of the world that assumes that French rule was paternal and kind. (Forget the fact that black Haitians were slaves.) Let’s just say that historical evidence isn’t on Robertson's side. From a theological standpoint, one must also wonder if God has been asleep at the wheel for several hundred years if final retribution is only coming now.

Because of the First Amendment, both Limbaugh and Robertson have the right to spout nonsense and hatred. I wonder what they would have said about the Holocaust if they had been reporting back in the 1940s? (Actually, I don’t wonder; I’m pretty sure I know.) The FCC and their respective networks could and should toss their sorry asses off the airwaves, but don’t look for that to happen: controversy sells, no matter how malodorous its stench. (And don’t forget, right-wing moguls own those airwaves.) What can happen, though, is that we can adapt a 1950s tragedy for the 21st century. Let’s call Limbaugh and Robertson “First Amendment Fascists.”

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