Goodbye, Howard; watch out, Rush!Steve Hammer

I'm far from being the sharpest tool in the shed, but I've been noticing some troubling things lately. Why has the government seemingly invested more time and energy investigating Janet Jackson's exposed breast than it has tracking down Iraq's weapons of mass destruction? The terrorists who murdered 3,000 people that day were not targeting Republicans or Democrats. And our tears that day did not come from Republicans or Democrats, only Americans.

Janet's breast was exposed for two seconds during the Super Bowl but the incident has been used to justify a wide-ranging crackdown against all broadcasters. Howard Stern is being run out of the radio business and Bob and Tom could be next.

The scary thing about censorship is that when it starts, it builds momentum and is difficult to stop later. ABC snipped a few seconds out of a love scene on NYPD Blue last week and Survivor has taken to blurring out the (clothed) chest areas of its female contestant, lest any troubling bumps appear on screen.

FCC honcho Michael Powell, sensing blood, is vowing to go after cable and satellite channels next.

It's another front in the long-running culture war. Back in the '80s, it was Prince's naughty lyrics that were leading our youth down the path to hell. And 2 Live Crew's even raunchier lyrics caused an epidemic of masturbation and general sinning.

We seem to have weathered those storms fairly well and I have no doubt that the nation will survive having seen Janet Jackson's boob. But we will all be paying a very heavy price for that brief look at her chest.

Shed no tears for Howard Stern; he's a millionaire many times over and was going to likely quit radio after his contract expires in a few years anyway. Much of what he's done for the past 20 years could be found to be "indecent," at least by the FCC's standards.

But it's curious that he was bounced off the air in six markets after a series of shows ran where he slammed President Bush and his policies. Hell, even Rush Limbaugh is concerned about the new wave of censorship - perhaps because he could be next if he steps out of line.

I didn't mind seeing Janet's boob. In fact, I wish she'd gone ahead and bared both of them. That's not obscene to me. We need more of that kind of programming on television.

Obscenity isn't a fart joke on Howard Stern or an erect nipple on Survivor.

What is obscene to me is a politician taking the events of Sept. 11, 2001, and spinning them to political advantage.

The new TV ads for President Bush's re-election campaign show the flag-draped remains of a firefighter being carried from the World Trade Center site. Another ad shows the firefighters in action on that tragic day.

President Bush has no right to politicize one of the worst days in American history, particularly as he continues to evade the pleas of the independent commission investigating Sept. 11 that he testify.

The terrorists who murdered 3,000 people that day were not targeting Republicans or Democrats. And our tears that day did not come from Republicans or Democrats, only Americans.

It's the only event in my lifetime where every American was united in grief and anger and, ultimately, determination to punish the people responsible. Those feelings were shared by us all.

How dare he exploit the deaths of thousands to achieve a political goal. It's especially galling given Bush's statement in January 2002: "I have no ambition whatsoever to use this as a political issue."

I give the president credit for helping reassure us in the days following Sept. 11. But make no mistake: Just about any politician could have done that job as well or better than Bush. The country was hungry for leadership.

All the country needed was a president who could act like a compassionate and understand human being for a few months. And that kind of leadership could have come from John McCain or Al Gore, even good old Dan Burton, God help us all.

But the questions ahead of us don't concern Sept. 11 as much as they concern the future. Do we want four more years of fear-mongering, of increased polarization, of watching our civil liberties erode?

The president is right when he points out we are at war. There is a war on terrorism and there is a war on freedom. The over-reaction to Janet Jackson and to non-issues such as gay marriage are two more campaigns in that war.

Many years from now, I suspect, the people who stood up against repression will be regarded as heroes while those who pandered to peoples' worst instinct for political gain will be forgotten.

It's hard to overstate just how critical these days are for our country. We are at one of those turning points in history. It could go either way. We could begin to tip the scales back towards tolerance and liberty or it could all go spectacularly bad.

That's why I'm going to keep reminding people how important it is that we all register to vote and exercise that right in November. There are 236 days until Nov. 2. You can download a form at, print it out and mail it in. You can also find registration forms at most public libraries and all license branches. If you don't have 37 cents for a stamp, I'll loan it to you. We can't let freedom die.


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