Jayne: Controversies show we're too tolerant of intolerance

By Greg Jayne, Columbian opinion editor

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photoGreg Jayne, Opinion page editor

I’m not sure we’re getting this whole tolerance thing. You know, the one defined as “sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one’s own.”

Consider the flap over Ted Nugent’s scheduled appearance at the Clark County Fair, which last week devolved into a battle of “Watch this — I can be more offended than you are.”

On one hand, you had Vancouver resident Troy Maxcy, who reacted to the scheduling of an Aug. 5 Nugent concert by starting a protest petition on MoveOn.org. That’s the same MoveOn.org that was founded in the wake of President Bill Clinton’s impeachment, saying it was time for the nation to move on. The group has spent the past 16 years making an art form out of being offended, which seems to run counter to the liberal ethos of tolerance.

The petition got the attention of fair organizers, who promptly canceled Nugent’s appearance. Something about a Radius Protection clause and the fact that Nugent is playing shows Aug. 2 and 3 in Tacoma. Good explanation — except that it rings hollow because the group Night Ranger is playing the fair one night after appearing in Albany, Ore.

Then, because a good soap opera always has another story line to add, the cancelation raised the ire of Nugent supporters. They wrote letters to The Columbian and left comments at Columbian.com criticizing the decision, blasting the fair, and blaming leftists for vilifying The Nuge.

You see, nothing is easy when it comes to Ted Nugent. He turned his Motor City Madman act into rock stardom in the 1970s and has been trading off of it ever since. In recent decades, that has meant being an icon to many conservatives for his gun-rights activism and well-articulated right-wing politics.

How somebody who wrote and sang “Wang Dang Sweet Poontang” and “Jailbait” (extolling the virtues of violating a 13-year-old) becomes an icon of the family-values party is beyond me. As we should have learned long ago, you need to choose your heroes wisely (Cliven Bundy, anybody?). But, as we said, nothing is simple when it comes to Ted Nugent.

Time to listen more

All of which had me thinking about this notion of tolerance.

You see, last week also brought us the story of a professor at East Carolina University who sent an email to pending graduates saying they couldn’t mention God in their personal graduation statements. Why he thought this might be reasonable or wise or legal has yet to be explained, but the university quickly corrected the violation.

And it brought us the story of Condoleezza Rice backing out of the commencement speech at Rutgers University after students raised a ruckus over her role in the Iraq War. Yes, by all means, let’s avoid hearing from somebody who once was one of the most powerful people in the world because we disagree with her politics.

Which brings us back to the county fair and our overdeveloped sense of self-righteousness.

Look, I think much of what Nugent does is offensive (sample lyric: “Well I don’t care if you’re just 13/You look too good to be true”), and his comment earlier this year that President Obama is a “subhuman mongrel” was more than tinged with racist imagery.

But I don’t think that’s reason enough to start a petition protesting his appearance in the county. I don’t think that’s enough to cave in to the squeaky wheels and give them the grease that comes with canceling the performance. And I don’t think that’s enough to pull the “I’m offended” trump card and condemn the Clark County Fair when organizers made what they think is a sound business decision.

The solution: If you don’t like Ted Nugent, don’t go to the show. The man plays a mean guitar, and maybe he would have blessed the proceedings with a rendition of “Great White Buffalo.”

And through it all, there is one consistency between the controversies over Ted Nugent and East Carolina University and Condoleezza Rice: The tolerant thing would be to spend more time listening and less time complaining. We just might learn something along the way.