Friday, June 01, 2007

Rosen: Protest is going to the dogs

(We have not touched on this issue yet. Mike Rosen does a pretty good job for us though. As reported by the Rocky Mountain News)

Somehow I find it hard to imagine Thomas Jefferson celebrating the ratification of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights by depositing a bag of dog poop at the doorstep of his political rival, Alexander Hamilton. When our Founding Fathers crafted the First Amendment, I believe they had a loftier notion of the kind of free speech they sought to protect.

It's a measure of the decline of public taste and discourse that a University of Northern Colorado retired professor of French literature, Kathleen Ensz, would adopt this tactic as the way to express her opposition to the views of a duly elected member of Congress, Rep. Marilyn Musgrave.

Perverse Halloween pranksters have been known to fill a paper bag with doggie doo, set it afire outside someone's door, ring the bell, and watch the poor victim stamp it out. This is the kind of malicious, stupid thing that immature kids do. Ensz is a 64-year-old adult who was a college professor. For shame.

Appropriately, Ensz was charged with criminal use of a noxious substance. This turns out to have been a mistake by Weld County prosecutors. Conviction, under this state statute, requires "intent to interfere with another's use or enjoyment" of property. At her trial, Ensz's lawyers didn't dispute the fact that she delivered a mailer stuffed with dog feces to Musgrave's office. And Ensz's German shepherd didn't deny that it was the source of the smoking gun.

Her defense (Ensz's, that is, not Fido's) was that the intent was political protest - she didn't like receiving Musgrave's constituent mailers - and this was an exercise of free speech with no intent to interfere with Musgrave's enjoyment of her property. Personally, I tend to enjoy property less when it reeks of dog poop, but that's just me.

In any event, the jury followed the letter of the law and Ensz beat the rap. Had prosecutors charged her with something like malicious mischief, they might have gotten a conviction.
That's the approach the authorities are taking in Austin, Minn., where a 22-year-old man has been charged with disorderly conduct for protesting a parking ticket by including dog feces in the envelope containing his payment. This led to the illness and hospitalization of a clerk who came in contact with it when she opened the envelope. Ensz's irresponsible act could have caused similar injury.

Putting aside Ensz's lack of class, what does this say about the mentality of those who regard this as legitimate political protest?

Listen, I get mailers from Denver's left-wing congresswoman Diana DeGette, with whom I rarely agree, but it would never occur to me to do something remotely like this. Civilized people voice their opposition with words, not vile behavior.

When American patriots dumped all that tea into Boston harbor, they were protesting taxation without representation. Today, we live in a constitutional republic with democratic institutions, representative government and free elections. Ensz might not like Musgrave, but she was outvoted by citizens who do.

Free speech is one thing, but no one has the right to physically abuse others with expressions that involve dog feces, pies in the face or spilling blood on someone's fur coat. This is the conceit of smug, self-righteous radicals who reserve, only for themselves, the right to impose their will on others.

Ensz's arrogant, anti-social behavior might seem petty, but mentalities like hers are ultimately dangerous to a civil society. Her actions were only different in degree from eco-terrorists, abortion-clinic bombers and sociopaths like Eric Rudolph and Timothy McVeigh.

Suppose a thousand people who disagree with Ensz, each acting as an individual, expressed their disapproval by leaving bags of dog poop on her front porch. I wonder if liberals who've defended Ensz's act would think that was cute, too.

Mike Rosen's radio show airs daily from 9 a.m. to noon on 850 KOA. He can be reached by e-mail at .

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