Defending the Ku Klux Klan as a bastion of free speech is not an American value.
Holding up Pastor Terry Jones, who lynched an effigy of President Obama and burned a Quran, as a shining example of the value of free speech is not an American value.
Championing Westboro Baptist Church as the emblem of free speech is not an American value.
And neither is defending an offensive, amateurish and bigoted documentary that mocks Islam and the Prophet Mohammed.
Those, rather, are the liabilities of free speech that we tolerate in the name of freedom but nevertheless condemn as unacceptable in the name of humanity. We don’t stand against such hatred on the grounds of the First Amendment or any of our freedoms to do so. Rather, we condemn them on the grounds of our basic humanity and decency that transcends our nationalities, ethnicities, races and religions.
But Gov. Romney, you not only got your facts wrong in your response to this tragedy, you have also more troublingly thrown your hat in as the archdefender of extremist rhetoric that incites the kind of violence that kills diplomats in embassies. Instead of standing with America as we mourned the fallen and condemned the violence — as President Obama and his Administration actually did in the wake of the attack, you, Gov. Romney have aligned yourself with with the KKKs, the Terry Joneses, the Westboro Baptists and the secretive filmmakers of the most recent documentary who exploit our hard-won, long-defended freedom of speech in order to spew hate, violence and vitriol.
No one is apologizing for American values. But as Americans we are duty-bound to speak out when our values — our freedoms — are abused by those that want to watch the world burn. No one is apologizing for American values. Rather we are speaking up for them. We are speaking up for tolerance, decency and respect. These are American values that, I’m convinced, will eventually win out just as they have won out in the past for African-Americans, for Catholic immigrants, people of Jewish faith, and Mormons.
Do we really want to hold up the kind of behavior that ridicules, belittles and demeans religion as the best America has to offer in terms of value?
Romney’s response is more than a cynical attempt in the midst of tragedy to turn the death of these American diplomats into a talking point to reinforce his misinformed characterization of Obama’s foreign policy strategy. It is a revelation of his character and his politics, of who he will speak up for — militant, hate-filled zealots crusading against a specific religion — and who he will not — the U.S. civil service members doing the hard, tenuous work of diplomacy in dangerous situations abroad.
These men and women — not the folk who issued the terrible anti-Islam documentary — represent American values. May we honor them, their lives and now their deaths, not the extremists in our country who try to tear down in one short video clip all that they have worked for years to build.