Imus’ firing really not a big deal

Lately it seems that you can’t swing a dead radio career around here without hitting something labeled “Don Imus.” As much as I’m loathe to jump on the bandwagon on any particular issue (I shouldn’t have to jump, as I consider the bandwagon to be my more-or-less permanent home—comfortably furnished and stocked with Cheez Whiz and Saltines), I feel the need to toss out my thoughts on some moaning that a couple of nationally syndicated radio pinheads were engaged in the other day.

It seems that the pinheads, whose names rhyme with Dopey and Shmanthony, were making a great Wringing of the Hands over the idea that a chilling effect would soon cast a blight on radio hosts across this great land of ours. Freedom of speech was their rallying point, and the general consensus seemed to be that, although Imus might have been misguided, shutting him down due to a few spiteful malcontents like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton would eventually lead to the demise of democracy, candlelight bowling, and the American Way.

This isn’t the first time I’ve heard talk like this—it seems to arise any time a high profile figure gets fired from a broadcast job for allowing the thoughts in his brain to exit his mouth without being filtered through his pay stub. Certainly the thought isn’t original to the radio duo mentioned above, and it won’t end with them either.

Let’s all say this together so we remember it in the morning: Don Imus’ firing had nothing to do with freedom of speech, nor will it. The First Amendment is still in place, and it’s just as strong as it was a few weeks ago, minus the damage done to it over the last several years by the brain trust that insists on protecting us from terrorists by making us take our shoes off to get on a plane.

The firing of Don Imus will neither produce a chilling effect, nor a “corseting of society,” as one radio guest put it. Well, it might make a few radio-types watch their words for the next couple of months, but by the time the All-Star Game rolls around, most will have forgotten about it.

No, Imus’ firing has everything to do with the fact that he proved himself to be an incompetent on nationwide radio.

Some may wonder how I can call the man incompetent. After all, he’s had plenty of success. He’s had a long career and national recognition. He can afford to wear fancy cowboy hats while hanging out on his ranch where he does admittedly nice things for children with cancer.

It’s simple. He had a job. His job was to entertain people. He opened his mouth a bit too wide and let the fact that he is a misogynistic racist fall out. Lots of listeners didn’t find that entertaining. Many of his advertisers didn’t find that entertaining. Most importantly, his bosses at CBS and MSNBC didn’t find it entertaining, and they fired him. That’s the whole story.

We all have bosses, well…most of us do, anyway, and when we do something at work that bothers those bosses, there is a strong likelihood that we’ll be fired. This applies to the kid pushing the mail cart, the up-and-coming executive, and Don Imus. Fortunately, most of us are faced with a fairly simple set of rules that even we can understand; rules that allow us to keep our jobs as long as we conduct ourselves within broad guidelines. One particular rule that tends to hold true across many career paths is that, while your employer may not fire you for being a misogynistic racist on your own time, talking that way at work is almost certain to get you canned.

So Imus spouted off at work and found himself on the street, same as would happen to almost anyone reading this if they acted the way he did. He was stupid and incompetent, and he paid the price. After all those years in broadcasting, he should have known better.

Freedom of speech? I’m all for it, and I’ll even defend Imus’ right to spout his asinine viewpoints on any street corner in the U.S. Of course, I can think of a few intersections where he might not get away uninjured if he talked that way, and if he’s interested I’ll send him a list of suggestions, but that has nothing to do with the First Amendment.

But he won’t be spilling his swill on CBS’s airwaves anymore, and that is as it should be. If national radio hosts ever make a habit of spouting racism and there’s no public outcry, we should probably take a good look at ourselves. Again.

In the meantime, if Don Imus feels that his artistic freedom has been unfairly stifled by his former employers, I have another suggestion for him: get a blog. Sure, the pay sucks, but you can say anything you want.

The President should find a way to thank Congress

I have to admit—my position on the Iraq war has been taking a waffling lately. It wasn’t always that way. In the beginning, I was steadfast in my belief that not having an Iraq war was absolutely the right course of action, yet lately, I’ve been watching as everyone from Howard Dean to Steve Earle has demanded that we pull the troops out of Iraq and get them home where they belong.

That’s a sentiment I could embrace pretty easily, but there’s an annoying, contrarian thought that keeps crawling around in the back of my head and I just can’t get rid of it, no matter how much bug spray I use. The idea is this: if we pull out of Iraq early, not only will we have done irreparable damage to the people of that country, but we’ll be sticking them with our mess.

A fine mess it is, and one that, by the way, ends with Iraq either nurturing its infant democracy, breaking into several unstable warring parts, or turning into yet another repressive Islamic theocracy that I like to call Iran, Jr. I’ll leave it to the reader to decide which of those is most likely. And which is least.

So, I’ve found myself in the unlikely position of defending “the surge,” even though it’s probably a silly idea (too little, too late) with a seriously silly name, brought to us by the gang who started all the trouble in the first place. I’ve defended sending over even more troops and seeing this thing through, even as I’ve had friends fighting for their lives in the Middle East. My lack of military service makes me feel like one of those war hawks who served very little or not at all, yet sends others to fight at the drop of a hat. What do we call those guys again? Oh, yeah…presidents.

Then I read about American soldiers who have written home and told their loved ones that the Iraqis have basically hung them out to dry. The Iraqi forces, it is said, don’t support the U.S. troops, they fight amongst themselves, they form secret or not-so-secret alliances with local warlords. That makes me believe that maybe enough is enough. Solving the problem with the help of the Iraqis seems difficult, but solving it with them working against us seems impossible. Maybe we really should bring our forces home.

Then there’s the “spilled grape juice” analogy that I discussed with a friend of mine recently. It seems to me, that if you spill grape juice all over someone’s sofa, the least you can do is pay to have it cleaned. Make no mistake, we spilled the grape juice. We may have meant well at the time, but the alternative Iraq sans U.S. invasion looks very different than the Iraq we’re stuck with now. If nothing else, common decency would put us in the position of trying to stabilize the country before we all go back to watching “Dancing with the Stars.”

Thus the waffling.

The only conclusion I can draw from all of this is that the U.S. is in a genuine no-win scenario. That doesn’t mean the terrorists have won, because I don’t think they have. What that means is that there is no good, clean end to the Iraq situation, no matter what course of action we choose. To paraphrase a line from the old movie “War Games,” the only way to win would have been not to play.

Do you think George W. Bush lays awake at night, musing that, like Waldo, the cure for Iraq is right there in front of him if only he can spot it? Me neither, but I’d like to think he loses a bit of sleep every once in a while.

Fortunately for him, the Democrats have parachuted into the Capitol bearing the perfect solution for the Republicans. Unfortunately for the Iraqis, the Democrats’ answer has nothing to do with fixing that country—they’re no smarter than anyone else when it comes to that, and the same no-win situation holds just as true no matter who’s in charge.

No, the Christmas present the Democrats hold in their hands is the face-saving that they are handing Bush and the Republicans, if only they’re smart enough to accept it. Sometime in the near future, Congress will send the President a bill with a date on it. That date will be the target for bringing American troops home. The President will veto that bill. Congress will be unable to override the veto, but will work with the President’s people on a new compromise bill that gets the troops out by a later date.

If they play their cards right, the core Republicans will rail against that new bill, telling us what a big mistake it is to set an artificial date for the end of a war. The president will sign the bill, all the while expressing reservations about the concept. In so doing, he can simultaneously unify his party, end the war, and dump responsibility for Iraq’s disastrous future squarely in the laps of the Democrats. “We didn’t wanna do it,” he’ll say. “They forced my hand. I said all along that pulling out was a bad idea, and they proved me correct.”

When your political enemies give you that nice of a gift, the least you can do is thank them with a nice steak dinner. At a bare minimum, Bush should send over a couple kegs of the good stuff.