Last night, President Barack Obama was asked about the anti-anthem protests by NFL players, led by 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Obama took a very presidential position, defending both Kaepernick on free speech grounds but also cautioning NFL players and others that the anthem and flag mean a lot to those who have fought and died for the liberty to protest:
I believe that us honoring our flag and our anthem is part of what binds us together as a nation. And I think that for me, for my family, for those who work in the White House, we recognize what it means to us, but also what it means to the men and women who are fighting on our behalf….
And the test of our fidelity to our constitution, the freedom of speech, to our bill of rights, is not when it’s easy, but when it’s hard….
We fight sometimes so that people can do things that we disagree with. But that’s what freedom means in this country. And so my hope would be that as this debate surfaces, we’re always reminding ourselves that in a democracy like ours, there are going to be a lot of folks who do stuff that we just don’t agree with. But as long as they’re doing it within the law, then we can voice our opinion objecting to it, but it’s also their right.
The president highlighted the importance of dialogue (as opposed to the childish tantrums often thrown by college-aged Black Lives Matter protesters):
So I want Mr. Kaepernick and others who are on a knee, I want them to listen to the pain that that may cause somebody who, for example, had a spouse or a child who was killed in combat, and why it hurts them to see somebody not standing. But I also want people to think about the pain that he may be expressing about somebody who’s lost a loved one that they think was unfairly shot.
And one of the things that I always say about American democracy is, it can be frustrating, but it’s the best system we’ve got. The only way that we make it work is to see each other, listen to each other, try to be respectful of each other, not just go into separate corners, and I do hope that anybody who’s trying to express any political view of any sort understands that they do so under the blanket of protection of our men and women in uniform, and that that appreciation of that sacrifice is never lost.
This is a really solid statement from Obama. It’s balanced, and gets across all the things a U.S. president ought to say about issues like this one. It’s not perfect — the NFL has rules that restrict speech, which is legal for a private company — but it’s really good.
It’s also extremely hypocritical. The same president who last night said we must respect the speech of others even “when it’s hard” is trying to force priests and nuns to insure contraceptives and abortifacients. He’s the same president whose IRS targeted Tea Party groups and social conservatives, and won’t let states defund Planned Parenthood. He’s tried to force schools to bow to the gender identity ideology, and he’s blackmailed African nations to force them to bow to his view on marriage in exchange for basic humanitarian aid.
Free speech is supposed to protect citizens from government pressure and attacks, even when it’s difficult. Clearly, defending speech for right-of-center Americans is a step too far for President Obama.