Friday, February 24, 2006

Ken Livingstone Suspended

"This decision strikes at the heart of democracy...elected politicians should only be able to be removed by the voters or for breaking the law." --London Mayor Ken Livingstone

So cried Ken Livingstone, mayor of London, in reaction to his four week suspension after comparing a Jewish reporter to a Nazi concentration camp guard.

Is he right? As a Jew, I'm conflicted. The suspension by the Adjudication Panel for England, might create a martyr. Jews run the world and what not. Plus, a stronger message would be sent, if Livinstone was trounced in the next election. A rejection by the voters. But, on the other hand, the guy's suspended. Good. He won't be able to blame his election loss on the economy, through the suspension he'll know he was punished directly for his comments.

But really, should an elected official be removed from office, or even temporarily suspeneded, for making insensitive remarks? Yes, this is in England, but look at it through American law. In a way, speech is even more protected when it comes from elected officials. Anything said on the floor of Congress by a Member, is protected. When it comes to the decisions of democracy, we don't want to chill speech.

On the other hand, Congress has the right to censure, throw out, or keep Members from taking their seats, all of the above having happend numerous times. That's hardly a direct decision "by the voters." Furthermore, impeachment and removal of the President from office (the former having occured twice, and the latter never) are also not at the direct decision of the voters. Indeed, according to some, "high crimes and misdemeanors," the standard for Presidential impeachment, doesn't mean anything more than "you're being politically troublesome, so we'll kick you out." But try writing that in the Constitution.

He knew what the rules were, and should have known that statements such as his could result in consequences. My only fear is that the door has been opened a bit more, that now people will believe they have a right not to be offended, even at the expense of someone else's speech. Better he be recalled or thrown out at the next election. So, in a way, he's right. It would have been a bigger slap in the face had this come from the voters. But he's also lying just like a politican, we've long recognized that actions do not always need to come from the voters.