Conservatives love to mock liberal college students who clamor for “safe spaces,” where they can hide from ideas that run contrary to their politically correct sensibilities. Yes, these kids need to grow up and learn how to make a counterargument, rather than call on the authorities to censor views they don’t like, even though most of them are 19 or 20 years old and probably have never been taught any better.
Yet a brouhaha in Washington, D.C., shows that some of the nation’s most fragile “snowflakes” are Republican congressmen, including Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of Huntington Beach and Rep. Duncan Hunter of the San Diego area. These grown men, and some others, were so offended by a Missouri student’s painting that they recently pulled it off the wall in a U.S. Capitol tunnel, where various works are displayed, and demanded the architect of the Capitol permanently ban the offensive object.
The artwork depicts civil unrest in Ferguson, Mo., following the shooting death of Michael Brown by a police officer in 2014. A cop with a boar’s head aims a gun at a protester with a wolf’s head. Police unions demanded the painting be removed, claiming that showing an officer as a pig undermines respect for law enforcement and endangers police lives.
The painting does seem offensive and stupid, but it’s clear these Republicans believe they can just take down anything in a public place that offends them. Rohrabacher is hardly afraid of offensive words, given his occasionally tart rhetoric and support for the ever-offensive Donald Trump, but he can’t bear to be on the receiving end of the offense.
“There are certain restrictions that apply,” he said, according to a video quoted by Huffington Post. “If someone wants to do this in a private gallery they have every right with their freedom of speech, we support freedom of speech. But you don’t put something attacking policemen, treating them like pigs, here in the Capitol.”
Fortunately, for Rohrabacher’s sake, he can now safely walk between his office and the Capitol without having his sensibilities assaulted. The Republicans argued the painting violated House rules — that nothing sensationalistic or reflective of current political controversies could be displayed there. Those rules are fair, and the Capitol’s architect Stephen Ayers agreed to have the painting removed after the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.
This resolution seems reasonable, but Rohrabacher, who called the painting an insult to all police, didn’t wait until the process played out. He removed the painting from the wall before a determination was made because he and others were offended. I’m not sure if the painting offends all police any more than it offends all African Americans (the protester was depicted as a black wolf), but the congressmen’s actions suggest it’s OK for people to remove anything from a public space that hurts their feelings.
When, say, lefties deface statues of Ronald Reagan because of some things the former president did that upset them, what will Rohrabacher say? Or when angry people tear down paintings of the nation’s slaveholding founding fathers, or … the list goes on. There’s no end to the offenses that people of all political stripes take these days, so Rohrabacher and his allies have given them their congressional imprimatur to take matters into their own hands.
Granted, this was a publicity stunt. For Duncan Hunter, it took attention away from his recent embarrassing news about the use of campaign funds to pay the airfare for his family’s pet bunny. (His office said the fare was mistakenly billed to a campaign credit card.)
I’m not sure what Rohrabacher gained. But I’d be less annoyed at what he did had he shown the same level of outrage about what the Justice Department revealed in its post-Ferguson report. The feds found that the local police department routinely used and abused the city’s residents, viewing them as cash cows to be fined and harassed, rather than as citizens who deserved protection from crime.
By the way, one of the police unions officially protesting the painting represents officers in Oakland. The department in Oakland, for those who missed it, has been ground zero in what CNN refers to as “a sexual misconduct scandal of epic proportions.” To me, such behavior denigrates respect for police far more than any overwrought artwork.
Clearly, Rohrabacher and his colleagues aren’t interested in doing what the painting sought to do, however clumsily and unfairly: spark a debate about modern police tactics. Far better for Rohrabacher to retreat to his safe space, knowing he won’t have to endure the indignity of seeing an image that upsets him. But let’s at least dispense with the notion that “snowflakery” is solely a problem for sensitive young college girls.
Image by Wikimedia Commons