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Endorsing Popeye for president

Popeye copyrighted by King Features Syndicate
By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

Where is the line between freedom of expression and hate speech? What is the difference between a racist remark and a joke?

I don't know.

Recently making a reference to the idea that President Bill Clinton was the nation's first "black president" a name given to him by acclaimed author Toni Morrison Sen. Barack Obama said, "Bill Clinton did have an enormous affinity with the African-American community, and still does, and I think that's well-earned."

The presidential candidate then added, "I would have to investigate more of Bill's dancing abilities, you know, some of this other stuff before I accurately judge whether he was in fact a 'brother.'"

It was a joke, but was it appropriate? Would it have been appropriate if a white candidate had said it?

I don't really know, but I bet if someone other than an African-American said it, there would have been a flurry of criticism. I'm also sure there are some African-Americans who are not comfortable with Obama summoning up an old and potentially damaging stereotype.

The lines are so blurred between what is correct and incorrect speech these days. Context seems to be the determining factor who says what at what time to which audience in what way.

And there's no guidebook on context, is there?

The other night when I was covering the fundraiser for Rep. Angelo Puppolo at the Basketball Hall of Fame there were about 40 protesters out on the sidewalk in what was described by them as a "Values Based Counter Rally." As you might know, Puppolo's switching of his vote on the same sex marriage issue vote back in June earned him the wrath of local anti-gay marriage activists who maintain that he betrayed them and their cause.

Puppolo was then publicly branded a "traitor to marriage" in a billboard last year on Interstate 91 comparing him to Judas and Benedict Arnold, no less that was financed by an out-of-state activist group.

The 40 or so folks carried signs, some of which criticized Puppolo by name but others condemning gay marriage. Still others simply attacked homosexuality.

As I walked up to the sidewalk to speak with Mike Franco, one of the leaders of the protest, one young man made sure I saw his placard. It read "Quarantine Queers."

He looked very proud and smiled.

All I could think of was the image of concentration camps.

My conservative friends yes, I actually have some have pointed out to me there is "hate speech" on both sides of the political discourse. They are right. Many people, left and right, have said and written grossly inappropriate things that have not advanced constructive dialogue.

That doesn't excuse what I saw the other night.

Free speech can be like juggling a cactus a thankless exercise that provides plenty of opportunity for pain. It's not easy to listen to points of view that are violently opposed to your own, but in a society such as ours they must not only be tolerated, but protected as well.

I'm willing to say a line should be drawn when an opinion advocates some form of violence and that sign that offended me did just that. That young man should be ashamed, but then again, I'm sure he is comfortable with his beliefs and thinks he has done nothing wrong.

But he has.

Well, I'll be getting some letters.


OK, I'm officially cheesed at this lop-sided primary system. Here I was all set to vote for Gov. Bill Richardson, a guy with an impressive set of accomplishments in a variety of government positions plus he comes from the land of my birth, New Mexico but he drops out of the race because he couldn't get the early support he needed to sustain his campaign.

Then I was all set to vote for Sen. John Edwards and he well, you know what has happened there.

This presidential race screams for real electoral reform in which we have a system not based on dollars raised, but on real debate that can result in people making decisions that are not based on who's the last candidate standing.

We need a national primary, financed by the parties, which takes the dollar signs out of the race and allows qualified candidates to be part of the discussion.

Of course too many people are making too much money off of the process now everyone from ad agencies and bumper sticker printers to caterers and hotel owners. The primaries pump millions of dollars into the economy, but they don't truly serve the voters, in my opinion.

I'm wearing a lapel pin now for my new favorite candidate: Popeye the Sailor. I like Popeye's tolerance he never hits first, but when he does hit back he doesn't fool around. He's obviously a green his boat is powered by the wind. He supports local agriculture one word: spinach. He believes in non-traditional families: he's a single adoptive father. He supports the underdog. He's not caught up in trends he's been wearing the same style of clothes since the 1920s. He speaks plainly and has a motto that should be embraced by everyone: "I yam what I yam."

Who am I kidding? Someone like that would never win a single primary.

This column represents the opinions of its author. Send your comments online to or to 280 N. Main St., East Longmeadow, Mass. 01028.