Friday, April 27, 2012
Marine Jackass Poster Gets The Boot
Sgt. Stein was first demoted to lance corporal as a result of his activities on Facebook. That seemed like sufficient punishment to me. But General Yoo and the Board decided that was not sufficient. Even a Commander-in-Chief who is in a permanent Jackass hole has a right to expect that his own men won’t attempt to embarrass him publicly. It also seems to me that anyone using Facebook should know by now that there is no such thing as a “private comment” on a site which is the epitome of the very public social network.
Nobody is more of a First Amendment believer than I. But Sgt. Stein forgot that he is a member of the Armed Forces, and the rules are different for them. The Uniform Code of Military Justice restricts the rights of active-duty service personnel from making disparaging public remarks about their commanding officers, and Supreme Court decisions have upheld those restrictions. The First Amendment doesn’t even protect employees who publicly criticize their companies and their bosses in the private sector. You’re free to say whatever you want, but you can’t say it while you’re working for the person or company you’re criticizing.
Which brings me to the point of truly admiring Sgt. Stein while at the same time wondering what his motivation was. Oh, I know the obvious part. He thinks Barack Obama is a dangerous, weak-spined, dishonest politician who shouldn’t be the commander-in-chief of a boy scout troop. But why now? The sergeant was months away from having his full military pension kick in. With an other-than-honorable discharge, he loses those benefits. That seemed foolhardy to me. Discretion is the better part of valor, after all, and nobody knows that better than a Marine for whom honor is a basic belief.
But I kept thinking about it, and began to wonder if rather than foolhardy, his actions were actually a high form of valor. The presidential election is mere months away, and when we elect a president, we elect a commander-in-chief. Perhaps Sgt. Stein had the same thought as Obama—“we can’t wait.” The safe course would have been to wait, collect his pension, and then go public after retirement. But the safe course would have meant that Sgt. Stein’s views wouldn’t have been heard until after the elections. Surely he must have known that his actions were not going to go unnoticed and unpunished.
The rules about making disparaging remarks are sufficiently vague such that the Department of Defense will be revising the rules to clarify what can be said and what can’t. That does seem to mitigate in Sgt. Stein’s favor. But long-standing civil and military legal precedent says that making a correction after the fact does not prove that those who made the corrections were wrong in the first place. The law favors improvement, and therefore doesn’t allow it as evidence of wrongdoing.
Sgt. Stein has received support from many sources, some obvious, others less so. Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-California), who is a Marine Corps reservist, says that “there’s only one upside to this whole thing which is that the Marine Corps recognizes its guidelines are out of date and that they need to be updated.” But Sgt. Stein has also received legal advice and support from the ACLU, which believes that the First Amendment does apply to Sgt. Stein’s actions.
In the words of Yogi Berra, “it ain’t over till it’s over.” I have no doubt that Sgt. Stein will not go quietly. There are still procedures for having the decision overturned. It also seems unlikely to me that a man brave enough (or foolhardy enough) to call Obama a “domestic enemy” on a site he created (while on active duty) called The Armed Forces Tea Party is suddenly going to go mum. After all, Obama is a disaster both as president and as commander-in-chief, and as a civilian Stein will have access to an even larger audience to address with that obvious truth.
Moreover, whether Obama and the political generals like it or not, Stein will now have the full protection of the First Amendment as to political speech which he lacked as an active duty Marine. Whether he comes off as a man who risked his career to point out that the government is rotting from the head down or simply an angry dissident is up to Stein himself.