Hate the sign, love the signer

Opinion: Ken Trainor

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By Ken Trainor

Staff writer

So what the heck, you're welcome, glad to have you with us, even though we may not ever mention it again.

"Iowa Stubborn"
Music Man

Every Sunday over at Unity Temple, Pastor Alan Taylor tells the assembled, "Whoever you are, wherever you are on your life's journey, you are welcome here" (he stole it from the UCC Church). Regardless of its origin, that message should be spoken at every house of worship every single Sunday.

And I'll take it one step further: It ought to be the motto of the Village of Oak Park.

So I would like to say to the Howells of Oak Park, the family whose Obamacare sign (they're against it) was destroyed by hooligans recently [OP couple feels targeted because of politics, News, Aug. 8], whoever you are, wherever you are on your life's journey, you are welcome here.

Oh, and I hate your signs.

Hate is an ugly word. I don't hate you, of course, just your signs. You know the old saying: "Hate the sign, love the signer"? I'm paraphrasing, of course, what conservatives like to say about matters such as same-sex marriage.

Maybe that's how the Howells feel. Just guessing, based on their signs — those big, ugly, in-your-face billboards aimed right at motorists taking the Grove Avenue curve on Jackson Boulevard, heading toward Oak Park Avenue. If you're coming from the Eisenhower Expressway, you couldn't miss it.

First there was Re-elect Bush/Cheney in 2004, a giant endorsement of the two guys who did more to damage this country than any other twosome in our history. Just sayin'. Free speech, you know.

That was followed by the Obamacare sign, circled in red with a slash through it. Must have been up at least two years. Annoyed me every time I drove by. It was annoying on the level of visual pollution alone but also because I disagree with it (and their reasons, presumably, though the sign wasn't specific). An equally large sign stating, "Obama, I care," would have annoyed me, too, though probably not as much.

There is free speech and then there is obnoxious free speech. Any motorist who shouted an expletive or flipped the finger at the Howells was engaging in obnoxious free speech.

I was not one of them.

Did it ever occur to me to wish that someone would steal or destroy that sign? Not once. Do I support the Howells' right to put up a sign outside their home that I don't agree with? Absolutely. Do I support my right to tell them what I think of it? Absolutely. Do I support someone else vandalizing or destroying such a sign? Absolutely not. Whoever did it committed a criminal act and should be arrested.

Do I hope in the future that the Howells put up signs that are not quite so large and in our faces? Yes. Should that be legislated? No. Some opinions should just be stated.

Free speech begets free speech. Obnoxious free speech begets obnoxious free speech. That's the crux of the civility issue, isn't it? Tit for tat, bemoan the orneriness of the other guy but pay no attention to your own. Tell the other guy his speech is hateful, but tell him in a hateful way.

It's a cycle we need to break but not by limiting speech. Americans feel great ambivalence about free speech. They want to exercise it, but they don't like to see it exercised. As I mentioned in my column last week, a survey conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs ("social research and corporate reputation specialists") in Washington D.C., discovered that only 45 percent of Americans think the Constitution should protect anti-American speech. Ironically, the majority who say no are engaging in anti-American speech.

On the other hand, a lot of conservatives support the Supreme Court's new definition of free speech (Citizens United ruling), which is to buy unlimited influence in a political campaign by donating unlimited amounts — and anonymously to boot. I call that "privileged speech," not free speech because it's not free. It costs money — which most of us don't have, rendering us "speechless."

No doubt the Howells and I disagree on a lot of things like that. They may hate this column (but not me, I hope). No doubt some of our local, free-speech practitioners will say so, too.

But the fact that conservatives live in a largely progressive enclave like ours is not only a point of pride for progressives (like me), it also speaks well for those conservatives, who don't seem the least bit shy about speaking out. They complain a little too much (in my opinion) about being an oppressed minority even though they really aren't. They just happen to be a minority (which they're unaccustomed to) in a community where progressives tell you what they think (also rare, unfortunately).

As they like to say about politics in that bastion of democracy to the east of us, free speech ain't beanbag. If you speak out, you have to be ready to engage.

I disagree strongly with the Howells' opposition to the Affordable Health Care Act, and I question how well thought out their opposition is. That's not an insult. It's a challenge. Our Viewpoints pages are open to you. I happen to be the editor, and I take great pride in making conservative letters read well — better sometimes than the writer might deserve. How's that for non-partisanship?

I think I speak for all Oak Parkers (or the vast majority) when I say to the Howells, and any other conservatives:

"What the heck, you're welcome, glad to have you with us, even though we may not ever mention it again."

Call us "Oak Park stubborn."

Email: ktrainor@wjinc.com

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John from Oak Park  

Posted: August 30th, 2012 2:43 AM

Beware Oak Park. Basically Mr. Trainor has endorsed bullying. At our schools, in our churches, and on the streets of Oak Park. It may seem far fetched, but stop and think about it. If someone with a different life-style had obscenities yelled at them or were flown the bird because they were different because they were a homosexual freshman it would be considered bullying; but Mr. Trainor just said that this is free speech. So is it or isn't it?

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