Saying "Nader is a Fucktard" is not Censorship

Lawrence Lessig has made some righteously angry observations about Ralph Nader who, in typically arrogant fashion, is going around saying stupid and wrongheaded things. Some other folks, notably Aaron Swartz are saying that Lessig is somehow “forgetting about the First Amendment.” I respect Aaron, even when I disagree with him, so it’s disappointing to see him making such a weak argument. In particular, Aaron says:

_ As Nader said ( and Lessig obviously heard ), running for President is a First Amendment right, involving speech, press, association, and petitioning the government. And in America, we value our First Amendment rights more than the harm that they may cause. _

Aaron, this argument is so bogus, dumb, and beneath you that I need to invent a new word to describe it: Squalmish. There. The argument that claiming that Nader is responsible for his actions, or asking Nader to take or not take some action somehow violates his First Amendment rights is amazingly squalmish. Incredibly squalmish. Squalmish to the point of absurdity, one might say.

Lessig doesn’t need me to defend him. He does it for himself quite superbly, and I’m not even 1/16th of the lawyer that he is. But maybe I can frame the debate in more prosaic terms that explain exactly why some of have such a violent reaction to his claim of “censorship.”

Nader (or any other idiot) is free to run for President, assuming he meets the Constitutional requirements, which of course he does. If the government were to outlaw his Presidential bid, that would be “censorship,” of a sort. If there was a media conspiracy to not give him any air time, that would be another form of censorship, albeit not one that involved the First Amendment. Criticism, however, is not censorship. Criticism is in fact the antithesis of censorship. Nader is free to say and do what he wants, within the confines of the law. The rest of us (Lawrence Lessig, Melissa Block, or me, or anyone) are free to request that he not do so, or beg him to not do so, or to point out that by doing so he is serving the forces of darkness, or is an egotist, or is (quite simply) a fucktard.

It does not infringe on Nader’s First Amendment rights to observe that he, fucktardedly, helped elect George Bush. It does not infringe on Nader’s First Amendment rights for me to observe that if he does it again, he will continue to be acting like a fucktard. It is not censorship to ask, request, tell, or advise him not to run, or to criticize him when, as we all expect, he makes the wrong decision and runs anyway. The First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech. It does not, should not, and never will guarantee freedom from criticism.

Now stop being so squalmish, Aaron, and return to your usual, better, quality of argument.